More than ever, we now need to think of love as ennobling resistance to what already is, modeling the idea that difficult things are worth the effort. Love may be the last sanctuary for the idea that struggle can be rewarding.
By Rob Horning
Tony Judt has a sort of memoir blog at the New York Review of Books. I find all of his posts to be delightful and insightful. His latest posting is on student professor relationships then and now, mostly then. I encourage my readership to read the entire posting. Following are a couple of excerpts from the post and then my comments.
In 1992 I was chairman of the History Department at New York University—where I was also the only unmarried straight male under sixty. A combustible blend: prominently displayed on the board outside my office was the location and phone number of the university’s Sexual Harassment Center. History was a fast-feminizing profession, with a graduate community primed for signs of discrimination—or worse. Physical contact constituted a presumption of malevolent intention; a closed door was proof positive.
Shortly after I took office, a second-year graduate student came by. A former professional ballerina interested in Eastern Europe, she had been encouraged to work with me. I was not teaching that semester, so could have advised her to return another time. Instead, I invited her in. After a closed-door discussion of Hungarian economic reforms, I suggested a course of independent study—beginning the following evening at a local restaurant. A few sessions later, in a fit of bravado, I invited her to the premiere of Oleanna—David Mamet’s lame dramatization of sexual harassment on a college campus.
How to explain such self-destructive behavior? What delusional universe was mine, to suppose that I alone could pass untouched by the punitive prudery of the hour—that the bell of sexual correctness would not toll for me? I knew my Foucault as well as anyone and was familiar with Firestone, Millett, Brownmiller, Faludi, e tutte quante. To say that the girl had irresistible eyes and that my intentions were…unclear would avail me nothing. My excuse? Please Sir, I’m from the ’60s…
Why should I not close my office door or take a student to a play? If I hesitate, have I not internalized the worst sort of communitarian self-censorship—anticipating my own guilt long before I am accused and setting a pusillanimous example for others? Yes: and if only for these reasons I see nothing wrong in my behavior. But were it not for the mandarin self-assurance of my Oxbridge years, I too might lack the courage of my convictions—though I readily concede that the volatile mix of intellectual arrogance and generational exceptionalism can ignite delusions of invulnerability.
Indeed, it is just such a sense of boundless entitlement—taken to extremes—that helps explain Bill Clinton’s self-destructive transgressions or Tony Blair’s insistence that he was right to lie his way into a war whose necessity he alone could assess. But note that for all their brazen philandering and posturing, Clinton and Blair—no less than Bush, Gore, Brown, and so many others of my generation—are still married to their first serious date. I cannot claim as much—I was divorced in 1977 and again in 1986—but in other respects the curious ’60s blend of radical attitudes and domestic convention ensnared me too. So how did I elude the harassment police, who surely were on my tail as I surreptitiously dated my bright-eyed ballerina?
Reader: I married her.
Projecting Judt’s situation into the contemporary academic scene, marriage to ones fantasy girl is no excuse. All that is needed is one third party informant of the Linda Tripp genre. And, of course, almost all universities codes ban “sexual OR amorous” behavior. So any protestation that you waited until marriage for sexual congress to occur is beside the point. Marriage would de facto indicate that there were amorous shenanigans going on.
In any case, I say “bravo” to Tony Judt. He didn’t capitulate to the campus sexual zealots. He shut the sexual regulators out and maintained his sexual autonomy. Too bad that there are hardly any Tony Judt’s into today’s academe. The men and women of the university world let the sexual control freaks have their way with them. If they violate the will of the sexual zealots, they almost always do so deep within the campus closet.
Larry King did a segment on Roman Polanski on January 6. Following is the transcript of that segment. King lost his mind when he interviewed Sharon Tate’s sister, Debra, and stated to Debra that Roman murdered her sister. It’s in the transcript, read it! And there is as whole lot more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roman was already an established film director. Everybody knew him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was the Roman Polanski.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The future was hit, he thought. And then everything just collapsed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn’t perceive having intercourse with a 13-year-old girl as against the law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact of Polanski leaving the country seems to have eclipsed what happened to the system of justice?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was a clip from the HBO documentary “Roman Polanski, Wanted And Desired.” Polanski, the 76-year-old movie director still a wanted man. He pled guilty in August of 1967 to having unlawful sex with a then 13-year-old girl. He was 43 at the time. Prosecutors in LA dropped the charges in exchange for a guilty plea. He fled the United States before sentencing and is currently in Switzerland under house arrest.
Polanski’s victim, Samantha Geimer, was on the show in 2003, and here is what she had to say then about Polanski and his possible jail time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: In retrospect, would you have been upset at the plea bargain to time served? In other words, Roman Polanski goes free after 45 days?
SAMANTHA GEIMER, SEXUALLY ASSAULTED BY POLANSKI: We were — everybody was really comfortable with that.
KING: Your mother was happy with it?
GEIMER: I never even asked him to be put in jail.
KING: Your father was happy with it?
GEIMER: I don’t know about that. I didn’t talk with him about it.
KING: You don’t think he deserved more time in jail.
GEIMER: No, and the publicity was so traumatic and horrible that his punishment was secondary to just getting this whole thing to stop.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Others will join us later. We begin with Lawrence Silver. Larry is the attorney for Samantha Geimer, Polanski’s rape victim. He and his client want the case against Roman Polanski dismissed. What happened in court today?
LAWRENCE SILVER, ATTORNEY FOR POLANSKI’S VICTIM: What happened today was that Polanski asked that, consistent with what the court of appeal had suggested in their December decision, that he be sentenced in absentia, and that will allow a hearing on the allegations pretty well established by the documentary that there was judicious, as well as prosecutorial impropriety.
KING: So they’re asking — they sentence him to a year, tow years, three years, whatever, while he is not there.
SILVER: To sentence him absentia. One of the arguments, I suspect, is that he’s already been sentenced and that this judge should merely confirm the sentence which was reached.
KING: What did this judge rule today?
SILVER: He ordered briefing on the issue and set a hearing for January 22nd.
KING: What does your client want?
SILVER: My client wants the case over. She has been enduring 32 years of relatively intense press coverage and interference with an effort to put this behind her and get it behind her. After 32 years, I think she is entitled to that.
KING: Since she is the victim, why isn’t she almost automatically acquiesced to? Don’t they listen to her?
SILVER: Apparently not.
KING: Do you make an argument?
SILVER: I have argued before the trial court and the court of appeal that the matter should be dismissed. He was supposed to be sentenced to time served, then the judge changed his mind, frankly, because of concerns of how the press would view him. And then, as a result, Polanski fled. And it’s been just a long period of time for her to endure and her family to endure the pendancy of this case.
Had it been someone else, perhaps, it would have been gone and forgotten, probably except by her, but not because of the great publicity that this case seems to engender.
KING: Legally, Larry, what do you think is going to happen? SILVER: Well, the court of appeals is very strong about the fact that there ought to be a prompt and quick resolution of the matter. And the court of appeals was also strong that there ought to be a full hearing. And this plea or request to be sentenced in absentia should result in a hearing. And then the court can decide what to do as a result of what is clearly judicial impropriety, as well as prosecutorial impropriety.
KING: When come back, Larry Silver will be joined by Debra Tate, Roman Polanski’s former sister in law, the sister of Sharon Tate, brutally murdered that night. Don’t go away.
KING: Joining Lawrence Silver with us now is Debra Tate, Roman Polanski’s former sister in law, the sister of the late Sharon Tate. On a persona note, I knew Sharon Tate. I had interviewed her a couple of months before her tragic murder. What do you want to see happen?
DEBRA TATE, FMR. SISTER IN LAW OF ROMAN POLANSKI: I would like to see this whole thing go away. I think that there has been a lot of time that has passed and we need to bring it to an end.
KING: Have you ever talked to Roman Polanski?
TATE: I have.
KING: How can you have a civil conversation with someone who so brutally murdered your sister?
TATE: Roman didn’t murder my sister.
KING: I’m sorry. When the fact that he would have this terrible thing happen to him after the death of your sister, to once again focus you into the public light. That’s what I meant.
TATE: I don’t have any problems with Roman whatsoever. The actions that he took back then has logic that doesn’t necessarily play out by the law, in my opinion. There are extenuating circumstances to this whole thing that have to do with legal improprieties. That is much bigger to me than the original offense.
KING: Did your sister love him?
KING: And he loved her.
KING: How was he doing when you spoke to him?
TATE: He was very concerned. He was very humble. He — you know, he thinks that this is a tragic situation. Now he sees it a little differently perhaps. And that is purely my take on things. He didn’t say it verbatim, but I could hear it in his voice. KING: Was there an age difference between Sharon and Roman?
TATE: Yes, there was.
KING: How much?
TATE: Ten years.
KING: That’s light by his standards, because he’s been married to his current wife for 21 years. I believe he met her when he was 15.
TATE: Fifteen, 16 Years old.
KING: He had a romantic relationship with Nastassja Kinski when she was 15.
TATE: That’s correct.
KING: You think he has an attraction for younger women?
TATE: I think in France it’s a normal way of life. It’s very well known that it’s a right of passage. Younger women with older men, older women with younger men.
KING: Do you understand why people might not look favorably on it?
TATE: I absolutely do understand. I am a victim’s rights advocate, and I deal with a lot of women that have truly been raped. I do understand it completely.
But this is just slightly different. And it’s not up to me to bring that to public light. But there are circumstances that make it ever so slightly different than a full rape.
KING: Do you know Samantha Geimer, Larry’s client?
TATE: I have never met her. Never.
KING: What do you make of her feelings?
TATE: Her feelings I absolutely understand, 100 percent. She’s a mother. She’s got her own children. This has got to put her, at this point in time, in a very uncomfortable position at best. And I think that it’s very inappropriate on behalf of the LA DA’s office, who I work with often, to pursue this case, especially in this fiscal climate. Perhaps there is an end we can reach without spending two million dollars on a trial, which is what it would usually cost.
KING: Why do you think they are so intent on this, Lawrence?
SILVER: It’s hard to figure. The prior prosecutor in the case certainly, Roger Gunson (ph), a really a wonderful human being, was quite understanding of the desire of my client and her family to end this thing, even back in 1977. And that intelligence hasn’t passed on.
KING: Where were you the night Sharon was killed?
TATE: I was supposed to be at Sharon’s house. But a phone call, circumstances changed, and I stayed at my mother’s home.
KING: You never get over that.
TATE: Never. Actually, I’ve never — I get victimized in way or another over and over and over again.
KING: Did you talk to Roman soon after that?
TATE: Absolutely. Roman and I remained very close for many, many years. We still are. I flew to London and testified in her majesty’s high court against “Conde Nast Magazine.” He won that. I went to Paris and spent some time with them. It’s like time lapsed.
KING: Does she have a happy marriage now?
TATE: He has a wonderful wife, happy marriage. Beautiful, bright, brilliant children.
In recent years there has been a major change in university policies banning student prof sexual relationships. The change has been the incorporation of “sexual or amorous” relationships. Almost all new or revised statements incorporate amorous relationships, eg, the new Yale statement incorporates amorous. And this change has been without critical comment.
The dankprofessor has been delinquent in addressing the incorporation of amorous. No longer will such be the case.
OK, let’s start out by being quite clear that these policies do not state sexual AND amorous; it is sexual OR amorous. So said policies definitely cover relationships that may not have a sexual component. This hugely increases the size of the population covered by the anti-fraternization policies.
We all know that being in love, that falling in love can occur without sex. And we know that some loving couples do not engage in sex because for one reason or the other they feel the time is not right. And some loving couples believe that their relationship should not be consummated until marriage. The makers of these policies know this, including the erudite members of the Yale Women Faculty Forum who play a critical role in creating Yale policy.
So are we really confronted here not just with a war against student prof sex but also a war against student prof love? On the surface, the answer is yes, but there is more, much more.
The reality is that if there was just a ban on sex between student and professors, many couples would be untouchable. They would be untouchable because they could simply deny having sex and there would be no one available who could dispute this. Faculty and students come under suspicion based on words and deeds, and appearances. Loving words, walking too close to a student, being seen too often with a student, having dinner with a student, notes of love to a student, loving emails to a student, a look of love directed toward a student or a look of love directed to the professor, this is what gets people in trouble. The assumption that underlying all of the foregoing is sex is just that- an assumption.
And, of course, what the amorous clause does is to not make it necessary to prove that sex has occurred. For the accusers, staying at the amorous level is just fine. Being found to be amorous with a student makes one a sex code violator.
But there is still more. What the amorous clause does is to make all close relationships with a student suspect. And therefore to diminish the possibility of becoming suspect many faculty refuse to be close with any particular student. Or for some profs playing it safe means that all interactions with students occur in a group context, never on a one to one basis. Sure having lunch with a student is OK as long as there are others who are partaking in said lunch.
It comes down to professors keeping their distance, and student professor couples becoming more and more closeted. Such is the nature of contemporary university life.
The December 11 headline in the Yale Alumni Magazine reads-
“New policy for profs: don’t sleep with undergrads. Period.”
Of course, it could have read-
“New Policy for undergrads, don’t sleep with profs. Period.”
The article reported on the new Yale policy which prohibits all “sexual or amorous” relationships between Yale undergrads and their teachers.
In a memo to the faculty, Provost Peter Salovey announced a stricter stance toward consensual faculty-student relationships. Previously, such relationships with undergrads were permitted if the teacher had no “pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities” over the student. For grad students, a sexual or amorous relationship remains OK if there is no pedagogical relationship.
Why Yale grad students have a sexual prerogative with profs and undergrads do not is explained in the policy-
“Undergraduate students are particularly vulnerable to the unequal institutional power inherent in the teacher-student relationship and the potential for coercion, because of their age and relative lack of maturity. Therefore, no teacher. . . shall have a sexual or amorous relationship with any undergraduate student, regardless of whether the teacher currently exercises or expects to have any pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities over that student.”
So putting the justification in dankprofessor terms, Yale undergrads are just too immature, they are not real adults like the Yale grad students and profs. So when these Yale undergrad kids grow up, Yale will allow them to have sex with the grownups of their choice, but still with some limitations, of course.
Maybe it might be better for Yale to reevaluate their whole admissions policy and only accept applicants who are mature. An elite Yale education should be for persons who are already grownups. If such was the policy, maybe Yale administrators would stop regarding Yale students as kids.
Of course, there is more. The policy explains that without the new ban the integrity of the student prof relationship is at risk- “The integrity of the teacher-student relationship is the foundation of the University’s educational mission.”
What utter poppycock! If such puts the foundation of Yale at such great risk, how has Yale managed to survive for so many years and have had so many outstanding graduates?
But there is still more. The policy goes on to state-
“In addition to creating the potential for coercion, any such relationship jeopardizes the integrity of the educational process by creating a conflict of interest and may impair the learning environment for other students…such situations may expose the University and the teacher to liability for violation of laws against sexual harassment and sex discrimination.”
The dankprofessor calls this the demonization of sex. Sexual demonization is the underlying dynamic fueling all the crusades to ban, degrade, eradicate myriad forms of sexuality. Yale becomes at one with the Christian right and the New England witch hunting zealots of centuries past.
And without doubt just about anyone could stand accused under this policy. Those who are not sexual but just a bit too amorous can easily become suspect. And as many of us know, those sexually accused are all too often assumed to be guilty, even at Yale!
This situation at Yale exposes the University to possibly becoming violators of human rights and human dignity. But such a possibility hardly ever restrains those who are committed to eradicating the sexually impure in our midst.
Keith Reader in his commentary on external examiners in the UK elucidates on his position that external examiners may be the way to go to avoid potential conflict of interest situations when a student to be graded is in a sexual relationship with the professor. Alan Clements in his article, “Strengths and Weaknesses of the External Examiner Mechanism” describes the process as operating in the following manner:
An external examiner is appointed to monitor a course. External examiners are normally senior academics who are paid a modest honorarium for their work during their fixed term appointment (usually 4 years). External examiners must be disinterested with no links with the university they are examining and with no conflicts of interest (e.g., a relative studying at the university they are examining). A typical university may employ 300 external examiners to cover all its courses.
The external examiner takes part in the development of a course as an advisor and is consulted whenever rules are changed. The external examiner’s principal role is in quality control and the monitoring of the exam procedure. A professor in the USA may create an exam paper on Monday, give it to the students on Tuesday, and grade it on Wednesday. In an English university, a teacher sets an exam with a marking scheme that provides sample answers together and an indication of how the marks are to be allocated. This exam is handed in to the secretary responsible for exams. The exam office sends the exam and its marking scheme to another member of the faculty for checking. This teacher returns the exam with corrections and suggestions and the person who set the exam creates a new version.
Having been checked internally, the exam paper is now sent to the external examiner who looks at the paper from the point of view of accuracy, conformity to the curriculum and quality. The external examiner would, for example, consider whether the assessment examines all parts of the unit and whether it is capable of discriminating between poor, good and very good students. The external examiner the returns the exam paper with comments and suggestions. These are passed to the unit leader who is expected to make the appropriate changes.
Clearly, such a long and involved process of setting an exam means that it is difficult to fine-tune an exam to a class because the exam is set months before it is taken. Equally, it is impossible to set several exams per unit because of the lead time and the bureaucratic overhead.
The role of the external examiner does not end with the checking of exams. After the students have taken the exam, the external examiner visits the university and attends the unit and progress boards. The external examiner has the right to comment on any aspect of the department’s work and assessment procedures. The external examiner scrutinizes work that has been graded (on a sampling basis) and may even interview students and staff. The external examiner signs final pass lists to validate them.
After the exam boards have met, the external examiner returns to his or her own university and writes a report. This report is sent to the other university’s registry as well as to the head of department. The department is expected to implement any suggestions made by the external examiner and to report back to them. Ignoring an external examiner’s comments is not an option.
Assuming that this system as it operates in the UK is successful in terms of abolishing potential conflict of interest impacting on course grading by insuring uniformity/standardization of course content and course grading, such would obviate any need to give special attention to student professor sexual relationships. Certainly the UK external examiner process would veto the call for banning student professor sexual relationships since conflict of interest is not a problem. However, as outlined by Reader, such is not the case since he indicates that the renouncing of these relationships is part of this UK process. But why? Why should they be renounced? Of course, such renouncing has occurred and will occur in the context of moral and sexual outrage or offense.
What disturbs the dankprofessor and I expect would disturb most American academics is that the UK process standardizes courses and exams and grading to such a degree that the professor almost becomes an irrelevancy. Ones course is no longer ones course but rather the university system’s course; the professor simply becomes a cog in the educational mechanism. For the dankprofessor, such represents dehumanization to the nth degree. And, of course, such can also be viewed as a steppingstone to the impersonal world of online education. This becomes an education with no teacher passion, no love of knowledge leading to the knowledge of love. How sad, how utterly pathetic that in order to eliminate the personal in education we might end up creating a Brave New World of Education.
But if this is to occur in America, it will not come about tomorrow. Students enrolled in one section of a course are unlikely to find that they are experiencing the same course that students are experiencing in another section. There will continue to be good courses and bad courses; good graders and bad graders. And there will continue to be classes in which what happens in class is important to the learning process. There will continue to be courses in which it would be impossible for an external grader to engage in fair grading unless the grader attended all sessions of the class. And there will continue to be courses in which students are graded on what happens in class-class participation, class presentation as well as being graded on term papers and special projects. Will the external examiner read all the 50 or so term papers to insure that there is fairness in grading? And, of course, in the UK, the US and Canada or any other country, the usage of external graders would be highly problematic in disciplines such as art and theatre arts and dance.
An expansion of the educational bureaucracy in order to eradicate student faculty romance should be considered to be out of order. The only persons who would end up profiting from such a process would be the bureaucrats and their allied entrepreneurs. In our age of moral entrepreneurship, it may be a pipedream to call for a laissez faire policy in higher education re matters of the heart. But such will continue to be the calling of the dankprofessor.
Deresiewicz is one of the very few academics who has directly opposed what has become a campus “truth” which is that female students never initiate anything sexual with a professor. Almost all campus fraternization policies say that such is the case. Female students are never seen as having any agency in this area. Female students are not seen as being attracted to male profs.
Deresiewicz puts it in in these terms:
Love is a flame, and the good teacher raises in students a burning desire for his or her approval and attention, his or her voice and presence, that is erotic in its urgency and intensity. The professor ignites these feelings just by standing in front of a classroom talking about Shakespeare or anthropology or physics, but the fruits of the mind are that sweet, and intellect has the power to call forth new forces in the soul. Students will sometimes mistake this earthquake for sexual attraction…
I think that Deresiewicz has it right in terms of professors igniting students, at least some of the students some of the time. Of course, there are many profs who never ignite students. I surmise that it is the non-igniting professors who are the profs who are likely to become involved in sexual harassment charges; their advances are hardly ever welcomed by students. On the other hand, the fully engaged and engaging professors are the ones likely to become involved in consensual sexual relationships with students since they are dealing with students who are ignited as a byproduct of their involvement in the class. Or to put it in what may be overly simplified terms, professors who love teaching their subject are likely to become the subject of student love. Of course, in the end Deresiewicz cops out- the students are mistaken, their “earthquake” has nothing to do with sexual attraction;
professors should help these jolted students avoid the excesses of campus love.
What Deresiewicz also fails to understand is that what he calls an earthquake experience is not unique to female students on campus. In traditional terms, such is called being swept away. The swept away feeling although applicable to both men and women, tends to be viewed as more often sought and experienced by women. It is also used as a rationale for having sex-
“he just swept me off my feet”- although the swept away feeling may be less often invoked for sex in todays hookup and binge drinking campus culture.
Now someone who understands the swept away experience is unlikely to state to the swept away, as Deresiewicz states, that ‘you are mistaken, you are not really attracted to the prof, you are just experiencing brain sex.’ The dankprofessor response to Deresiewicz and others giving this sort of counsel to the swept way is that the professor counselors know little or nothing about love and romance and sex in the real world. The fact that they often attempt to enforce their sexual biases as formal campus rules for sexual behavior is otherworldly. What we pedestrian students and professors are often left with are campus administrators who suffer from both puffery and buffoonery in their everyday campus sexual rule making and enforcing.
In a 2007 AMERICAN SCHOLAR essay on “Love on Campus” by William Deresiewicz, the author has some interesting observations on student professor relationships. He states:
…there is a reality behind the new, sexualized academic stereotype, only it is not what the larger society thinks. Nor is it one that society is equipped to understand. The relationship between professors and students can indeed be intensely intimate, as our culture nervously suspects, but its intimacy, when it occurs, is an intimacy of the mind. I would even go so far as to say that in many cases it is an intimacy of the soul. And so the professor-student relationship, at its best, raises two problems for the American imagination: it begins in the intellect, that suspect faculty, and it involves a form of love that is neither erotic nor familial, the only two forms our culture understands. Eros in the true sense is at the heart of the pedagogical relationship, but the professor isn’t the one who falls in love.
Love is a flame, and the good teacher raises in students a burning desire for his or her approval and attention, his or her voice and presence, that is erotic in its urgency and intensity. The professor ignites these feelings just by standing in front of a classroom talking about Shakespeare or anthropology or physics, but the fruits of the mind are that sweet, and intellect has the power to call forth new forces in the soul. Students will sometimes mistake this earthquake for sexual attraction, and the foolish or inexperienced or cynical instructor will exploit that confusion for his or her own gratification. But the great majority of professors understand that the art of teaching consists not only of arousing desire but of redirecting it toward its proper object, from the teacher to the thing taught.
Of course, Deresiewicz is right, but only partially right. He is right in the sense that the student and the professor often have a passion for the subject matter. And it is a passion that can facilitate an intense intimacy, and an intense desire by the student for approval and affirmation. Such is what the dankprofessor calls the love of knowledge. But what Deresiewicz fails to understand is that sometimes this intimacy can lead to the knowledge of love. He fails since he discards the knowledge of love as simply a mistake by a naïve student and a foolish or inexperienced or cynical instructor who will exploit the student for his or her own ends.
So Deresiewicz ends up playing the same old academic game when it comes to student professor sexual relationships. The student doesn’t know, the cynical professor exploits the naïve vulnerable student. But how does Deresiewicz know? He knows the same way that big sister and big brother know. They know the mind of the Other, know what motivates the Other and what is proper for the Other. And in Deresiewicz’s terms the proper professor will redirect desire toward its proper object, from the teacher to the thing taught.
So what the good professor wants is the proper professor and proper student never engaging in improprieties. Such, of course, is a form of pipe dreaming. And if there is a serious attempt to have the university not tolerate such improper relationships, such could very well transform university campuses into police states.
The author goes on to state-
Teaching, Yeats said, is lighting a fire, not filling a bucket, and this is how it gets lit. The professor becomes the student’s muse, the figure to whom the labors of the semester — the studying, the speaking in class, the writing — are consecrated. The alert student understands this. In talking to one of my teaching assistants about these matters, I asked her if she’d ever had a crush on an instructor when she was in college. Yes, she said, a young graduate student. “And did you want to have sex with him?” I asked. “No,” she said, “I wanted to have brain sex with him.”
Of course, he could have had a myriad of responses to his question, but for the author, one response is sufficient for him to make his case. But such is insufficient for the dankprofessor. For the dankprofessor knows that there are many alert female students who went on to graduate school and to become teaching assistants who did want to have sex with their professor and some had sex and some may have even ended up mating with a professor, maybe even mating with a professor who was a colleague of Deresiewicz.
But I also wish to make it clear that that the concept of “brain sex” as described in this essay, may very well be a viable concept. But what I refuse to accept is the implication that “brain sex” exists on some higher plane than “ordinary” student professor sex. Whether it is student professor brain sex or student professor sexual congress neither one per se is a mistake which needs redirection.
The major problem in regards to sex, whether it be on or off campus, are the zealots and the self-righteous in their attempts to redirect the sexuality of others to some pre-ordained mold. The love of knowledge will often lead to the knowledge of love, irrespective of what notions of propriety may be the calling of the day.
HOT FOR TEACHER is the attention getting headline for the University of Minnesota student newspaper article authored by Ashley Dresser on student professor sexual relationships. Although the headline is a tad sensationalistic, the dankprofessor believes that this is one of the very few student newspapers articles on this subject that generally gets it right.
Much of the article is based on an interview with a female student referred to as Prudence, who is having a relationship with a professor. Prudence is a pseudonym; such was, of course, the prudent thing to do. Prudence referred to the professor as MY professor. As the article states:
“Well, I find MY professor to be hot.” When we asked her exactly what she meant with that kind of emphasis on ownership, she proceeded to unveil every girl’s college fantasy:
“I’ve known him, my professor boyfriend, since I started working in his department about two years ago. I never took a class under him, but he always flirted with me…I blew him off mostly, but a couple of months ago he asked me out to dinner. We have had many, many discussions about whether or not it’s okay to pursue this, but so far it’s working out well enough. We just have to be discreet about it.” Before I could even get the question out of my mouth, Prudence added, “And yes, I call him ‘professor’ in bed.”
So much for all the articles that phrase student professor relationship in terms of professors being attracted to the student but generally via omission deny the reality that students are often attracted to professors.
As stated by the writer-
My classmates and I were awestruck by her academic prowess, but it did cross our minds that he could just be a hairy old man. A couple of Facebook clicks later, however, and Prudence proved us wrong. He is, in fact, a gorgeous specimen – perhaps heightened by the fact that he is not opposed to scandalous romance. (As a side note: the fact that we now have the ability to friend our professors on Facebook to learn more about their personal lives, sift through their photos, etc. makes this dating scene even more hot to handle.)
And then the writer violates campus journalistic tradition and provides material from an interview with the professor, albeit the professor is cloaked in anonymity-
“It is highly likely that us professors are attracted to our students,” Prudence’s professor said when asked for comment. “We see our students every single day and if they are taking a class with us, that probably means we have the same interests…And in general, guys don’t really care about age or profession with girls, so the fact that they are attracted to one of their students isn’t necessarily going to bother them.”
Well, in the dankprofessor’s opinion the professor gets it right. This is why the dankprofessor uses the phraselogy of “from the love of knowledge to the knowledge of love”.
The author then states-
Yet it does seem to bother a lot of other people. A simple Google search of “professor-student relationships” brings up a wealth of commentary about its pros and cons. In particular, check out www.dankprofessor.wordpress.com . It is a weblog that “examines the sexual politics in higher education and beyond.” Parents and the university administrations tend to be the two major groups that are having the qualms, which is ironic, since neither of them are the ones in the actual relationship itself.
Well, the author gets it right about the dankprofessor weblog. But she doesn’t get it completely right when she states that parents and university administrators are the two major opposing groups. She omits the major grouping- women’s studies faculty and feminist faculty who adhere to a hardcore anti sexual and anti male agendas. This group was the prime mover in the adoption of the sexual codes regarding student professor relationships and it is this group which would attempt to make trouble for any professor sexually involved with a student, no matter whether the student had ever been in the professor’s class. And it is this group that administrators are adverse to challenging and generally are willing to go along with their effort to make life miserable for any professor dating any student. Such is consistent with the decision of the student and professor who are the subjects of this article to not reveal their identity. And it should also be pointed out that some universities formally ban all student professor fraternization. But even when the relationship are not de jure banned as in the present case, the relationship is de facto banned in the framework of the professor becoming subjected to an array of punishments- from being treated rudely by fellow faculty to getting a horrid teaching schedule to being terminated.
As for parents, the following is stated-
“My parents would try to talk me out of it, if they knew,” Prudence said. “They would say I’m squandering my youth or that he’s using me for sex…The professor and I are sixteen years apart, but I would definitely recommend dating a professor to any student. They are more worldly and mature and they know how to treat a lady. I’m not knocking college boys, but they still have a lot of growing up to do.”
Well, Prudence may be a bit off base re parental response. Based on my experience and knowledge of the experience of others, most parents are unlikely to respond with horror to their daughter dating a professor, particularly if they have met the professor. And, of course, if one of the parents is a prof, rapport may develop quickly between the professor parent and the professor who loves the daughter. So I urge Prudence to be a bit more prudent, and not to assume that her parents will be rejecting parents.
The article ends with the following quote from Prudence-
“It’s all media and society hype that makes it seem so bad. Over the years, people have also given relationships in which the male is significantly older than the female a bad name…They make it seem like the guy is just after sex. Well, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but aren’t all guys, no matter what age, after sex? At the end of the day, we are just two people looking for some companionship.”
Amen from the dankprofessor. And this is what I have been trying to do- get beyond the hype to the everyday realities of these relationships. What is two people looking for companionship has been demonized over and over again by moral zealots and the morally perverse. To argue as Mark Bourrie has argued that professors involved in these sorts of relationships are “scum” and Erik Ringmar that such professors are disgusting is morally perverse.
Congratulations to Ashley Dresser for writing this article and I encourage my blog readers to read the entirety of this article.
The dankprofessor needs to give more visibility to a comment by a female student on the disgusting professor post. So here it is as a separate post-
I am an intelligent, twenty year old, female student and I have been attracted to multiple professors–none of which were balding, middle-aged, or disgusting.
The reality is that, a lot of the time, professors at universities are NOT drastically older than their students. Nearly half of my professors have been less than fifteen years older than me, which makes them far from middle-aged. And this is just argument for the sake of argument. Because, in reality, age is nothing but a number and ought to have no bearing on the issue.
Furthermore, the teachers that I have been attracted to, were attractive in the degree to which they were LESS disgusting than other men that I’ve met. They are rational, sensitive, inquisitive, socially involved, and far from “scheming pedophiles.” These two issues (catholic preist pedophilia and student-teacher passions) simply can’t be compared if only for the sheer fact that twenty year old girls are adults. I am an adult. Sorry to break it to you, Mr. Ringmar.
I am even somewhat involved with a former professor of mine. We are friends, but our friendship has negotiable boundaries. And for the record he is only 28. He is working toward his Doctorate. He has never disrespected me.
That is the reality of things.
“There is something perfectly sick about universities — filled with fat, balding, middle-aged men (and women) and a constantly replenished crop of gorgeous 20-something girls (and boys). Like the Catholic church, with its scheming pedophiles and innocent choir boys, it’s a recipe for disaster…
Why would an intelligent female ever sleep with a disgusting professor?”
Such is how Erik Ringmar, a professor in Taiwan, begins his post “Sex With Students, Pt 1, on his blog, Too Many Mangoes.
Maybe the good professor knows too many disgusting professors who have eaten too many mangoes or maybe the not so good professor considers himself to be a disgusting professor whose lecherous meandering have run amok?
Whatever the specifics may be, Ringmar’s imagery tells us more about himself and his imagination then anything about the multiple realities of student professor intimate relationships.
As for his question as to why an intelligent female would ever sleep with a disgusting professor, I would surmise that the intelligent female would not consider the professor disgusting. The same would be said about the professor who sleeps with an intelligent female, the overwhelming probability is that the professor does not consider the female to be disgusting? Maybe Ringmar’s problem is that he considers any party to such a relationship to be disgusting in the same manner that people who are anti-gay consider all gay relationships to be disgusting.
Professor Ringmar’s problem is that apparently he can’t get beyond his disgust, and that he feels uninhibited in degrading persons who are or have been in a student professor relationship.
Well, Ringmar should know that more than a couple of professors who have been subjected to such degrading rhetoric do not feel degraded. Far from it. They live their private lives in private, not engaging in any sort of sexual spectacle. Some have had the good fortune of meeting an intellectual confrere who they found attractive and such attraction was reciprocated. Some, including the dankprofessor, eventually transitioned from student professor to husband and wife.
I have no doubt that even in Taiwan the love of knowledge can lead to the knowledge of love. For those of you who have an open mind as well as having their eyes wide open, it can also happen to you.
Well once again Professor Mark Bourrie’s response to the dankprofessor is a non- response.
Here it is unexpurgated, uncensored.
I’ve answered your worthless critique many times.
All you seem to care about is rationalizing your seduction of your students. You are scum”
Bourrie’s usage of the scum rhetoric strips away his cloak of professionalism. No attempt to use professionalism here as a rationalization for his attitudes toward professors who have been intimate with their students. No attempt here for Bourrie to engage in any minimal form of academic or polite or enlightening discourse. His tactics are those of a hatemonger- objectify and dehumanize those who are on the other side. “Create” them in whatever terms the hatemonger wishes. No matter that Dank has never seduced anyone, Bourrie can still create and communicate Dank as a seducer without any need to cite supporting evidence since Dank is a creation of Bourrie’s imagination. Bourrie can imagine Dank and other professors who are intimate with students in what ever terms he wishes. Of course, such tells us more about Bourrie than it tells us about Dank, et .al. The fact that he homogenizes us, makes us all the same, allows no possibility that some of us seduce and some do not, is quite damning of Bourrie. As the philosopher Martin Buber would likely state, Bourrie lives in an I/it world, a world of impersonal categories, a world that is never allowed to transcend into an I/thou framework, a framework where there is personalization, where individuals are experienced as unique beings, where relationships are explored, where people can be appreciated and even loved. It is also a world that has been described by the anthropologist Mary Douglas, as a world of dirt and pollution and scum; a world infected by those who have engaged in violations of what is considered to be sacred.
In this world which Bourrie has created, there is no love. Bourrie along with many others
whose opposition to student professor relationships mainly has an anti-sexual dynamic, cannot comprehend that there can be a loving relationship between a student and a professor. The idea that a mutual love of knowledge can lead to love, a passion for each other is out of their world. The idea that some of these relationships become long term and lead to marriage, and even marriage at times without divorce is not considered. I think that I am on pretty firm ground when I believe that Bourrie has never given any consideration to the possibility that some of the professors and administrators he riles against at Concordia for not advocating student professor bans may very well have fallen in love with and married a student. And I am also quite sure that Bourrie has never entertained the possibility that some of his students may very well be the children of persons who were once in student professor relationships.
The mundane world of love, marriage and children is not there for Bourrie as applied to student professor relationships. Well, this mundane world is and was part of my world, and Bourrie’s writing me off and others like me as scum is not just beyond good taste, it reflects a descent into indecency and degradation. It reflects an attempt to pull his readers into his pornographic imagination.
And more must be said about love. It is striking that Mark Bourrie and his confreres say nothing about love, and nothing about falling in love. Such is striking since their often avowed goals is to preserve fairness and objectivity when it comes to grading. But never once does Bourrie say that the professor who has fallen in love with a student, a love which may be only known to the professor, should recuse oneself from grading the loved student or go to his supervisor to insure said love should not bias the grading process.
And as for barring student professor relationships that entail friendship without sex, Bourrie in his recent posting discounts such relationships as being different, not applicable. But, if ones goal really is to protect fairness in grading, one must know that at times close friendships, loving friendships can produce bonds that could threaten the fairness of the grading process. But Bourrie and apparently many others do not care about love and friendship interfering with grading. What they care about is sex and furthering their anti-sexual agenda. The fairness in grading appeal helps them to rationalize their goals, and that is too stamp out sex between students and professors.
As long as universities are not replaced by online education, there will be love and sex between students and professors. Such has become and will unfortunately continue to be at least into the near future, the love that dare not speak its name. And dankprofessor blog readers can be assured that the dankprofessor will continue to speak its name. Such is my pledge.
Mark Bourrie on his Ottawa Watch Blog responds to my critique on his wanting to ban student prof intimacies at Concordia University. He states-
An American university professor/blogger doesn’t get it. He says I want to “coerce” people. Actually, no. I want them to act professionally. I don’t want them to come on to, date and/or sleep with someone, then grade their work, decide on their scholarships, etc.
Of course, Dr. Bourrie is playing words games. He wants to coerce them if they act in a manner that he finds unprofessional. If they act like he wants them to act, if they act like him, no problem. Nothing new here, particularly in the area of sexuality. Follow my sexual standards or else! Nothing new here in reference to authoritarianism, just follow the ethic handed down from above, and all will be OK.
And then there is Bourrie’s naivete or is it verbal manipulation? Note his statement- “I don’t want them to come on to, date and/or sleep with someone, then grade their work, decide on their scholarships, etc.” This is sexism to the nth degree! Male active, female passive. A female student coming on to a male prof is nothing unusual, such has never been unusual and will never be unusual. Maybe the case is that female students do not find Bourrie attractive but such does not mean that they do not find other male profs attractive. I know this to be a fact based on my 35 years of experience as a professor as well as based on the experiences of many other professors and the many female students who have contacted me in regards to their love of their professor. And if Bourrie is unaware of male profs and female students marrying, such is other worldly. If female students were not attracted to male profs then the issue of consensual relationships would not be an issue.
Then Bourrie states-
“If sex between profs and students is so right, why do the profs involved keep it a secret? I figure anything that can’t take public scrutiny tends to be illegal, immoral or fattening. U of T gets that aspect, too, and it’s a good start.”
I ask Bourrie and his confreres, if in the past homosexuals believed their homosexuality right, then why did homosexuals keep their homosexuality secret? Why were homosexuals so closeted? Any person with some degree of common sense knows the answer to these questions. Being in the closet, keeping such things secret, does not mean that the secreted believe they are wrong, but often means that they do not want to be harassed, stigmatized and fired. As persons without power, they do not want to be subject to the power abuse of bureaucrats, police and various agents of moral zealots; moral zealots who act self-righteously in the name of their morality , their professionalism, etc.
And in more general terms about Bourrie’s feeling that “anything can’t take public scrutiny tends to be illegal, immoral or fattening.” Very funny if one does not believe in the right to privacy, in this case the right to privacy by consenting adults. I assumed that even so-called professionals believe sexual relationships between adults in private was OK. If the Concordia prof and student came out publicly, I guess Bourrie would feel OK about this rather than feeling that they were flaunting their relationship. I believe most people who are opposed to student professor relationships want them to be in the closet, not out in public for all to see, not engaging in marriage ceremonies, etc.
Bourrie then cites the University of Toronto policy in he following terms-
Here’s U of T’s policy. At least they recognize the conflict and say the affair must be disclosed, but look at the weasel word “should” in the first paragraph. I would prefer “must”:
University policy does not prohibit sexual relations between consenting adults. However, if you form any kind of intimate personal relationship with someone who teaches you or otherwise makes academic decisions affecting you, that teacher has a conflict of interest. She or he should disclose the conflict of interest to their academic supervisor – usually the Chair of the department or the Dean of the faculty – and should ensure that your work is graded by a colleague.
If your teacher does not disclose the conflict of interest, s/he is not simply in breach of University policy: s/he is showing a negligent disregard for your academic interests, and placing the legitimacy of your academic accomplishments in question.
Has Dr. Bourrie really thought thru the implications and possible consequences of policies of this sort? If not, I suggest that the good professor put himself in the position of the involved student and the professor who is committed to following university rules. One day, you as the student are removed from the classroom and theoretically put in another class for your own good. (Sometimes the student may not be physically removed from the class, but graded by another prof, no matter whether she stays or goes, the problems remain essentially the same.) And, in addition, you know that the university administrators who are “helping” you, know of your sexual activity that led to your removal. And then you will have to deal with the reality that it is your special professor who informed on you and has helped to remove you from his class. What kind of professor would do this? What kind of professor would do this to a woman who he supposedly loved? And for the involved professor his life goes on, no serious disruption since the disclose dispose policy, as some call it, has been implemented. I ask Dr. Bourrie, who professes to be a person who believes in this policy, have you ever given one iota of thought to the exiled student? Or was she simply a non-person who was disposed of? And this policy is implemented by some to correct a power imbalance; this is power imbalance at its worst.
But, of course, there is more, much more which is damning about this sort of policy. Supposedly the student is removed from class so that differential non-prejudicial grading can take place. But once the student is removed one can be assured that differential grading will take place since all the students but one will have the same grader. For the professor who is committed to fair and objective grading, the professor grades all the students using the same standard irrespective of whether the prof likes or dislikes the student.
However, dealing with the possible reality of the student being removed from class, who will be the grader and will the grader be able to grade this student as the regular prof grades all of the other students? How can it be assured that a colleague of the “special” professor will grade the student objectively, that his or her feeling about the special prof or the student, will not interfere with the grading? Will the grader be told that the student is the lover of the prof? And what if the grade is based on an in class project, on class participation, how will this be dealt with? And what if the student is taken out of an art or music or theatre arts or sports class? How can the prof deal with this? Shouldn’t the grading prof be forced to sit thru the entire class and then grade the student?
It is amazing that so many people, so many academics, are taken in by a policy that after a bit of thought one cannot help but label said policy as a sham. Academics often have knee jerk responses to these policies. Why? Because most academics give little thought to the intricacies, complexities and ethics of grading. Grading is at the bottom of the academic totem pole. Tell me about one professor at Concordia or UT who was hired in part because of their grading practices. Tell me about any university that has workshops for new or old faculty on grading practices. Of course, many faculty don’t grade, they ship out grading to teaching assistants. So much for the importance of grading.
Bottom line is that the policies that Bourrie, et. al., advocate are not based on a commitment to good grading but are rather based on rooting out those who they see as sexual deviants. In the dankprofessor’s opinion the irony regarding Bourrie and his concern for his daughter at the hands of a so-called predator professor is that his daughter would probably be at much greater risk if she becomes involved in the hookup and drinking culture associated with all too many colleges than if she became involved with her English or Theatre Arts professor. As the dankprofessor has indicated previously-
the love of knowledge can lead to the knowledge of love. Such passions simply cannot be destroyed or regulated by campus bureaucrats or professionals of any kind.
The Washington University of St. Louis student newspaper, STUDENT LIFE, published a pre-Valentines Day article, “Professor Student Couplings Remain Awkward Fantasies”.
In the dankprofessor’s opinion the major awkwardness regarding the article is that no student interviewed had ever had a romantic relationship with a professor, and no professor interviewed had ever had a romantic relationship with a student. This goes beyond awkwardness. I call it shoddy journalism.
The article did state that professor student dating is rare. But rare or infrequent dating is not the same as non-existent dating. If the article writer had simply asked around, the probability is overwhelming that either a student or professor could have been found. Such ruminations remind me of the Iranian president’s statement at Columbia University that there are no homosexuals in Iran.
There was one interview with a professor. Interviewed was Dean Jami Ake, professor of English and women and gender studies, who serves as a co-chair of the Committee on Sexual Assault.
Wow! In an article on student professor consensual relationships, the student newspaper decides that the one professorial interview should be with a person who serves as co-chair of the Committee on Sexual Assaults. The choice of a sexual assault specialist says it all. If the paper was doing an article on marriage, would they have selected a specialist on rape to be interviewed? If doing an article on gay marriage would they have selected a specialist on child molestation?
But Dean Ake was not all that bad, she
“agreed that there is a potential connection between academic and romantic interest. Even the vocabularies overlap. ‘I want you to be passionate about something. I want you to be inspired by it,’” Ake said. “It’s easy to see how that kind of intense interest in somebody and everything they stand for can translate more in terms of passion.”
Ake said that navigating the boundaries between close and too-close relationships is difficult, in part because of the worry that the student will feel uncomfortable or harassed.
Dean Ake certainly got it right when she imparts the understanding that in essence love of knowledge can lead to knowledge of love. However, she does end up on a patronizing note when she states that things may end up being difficult and worrisome and this could lead to the student feeling uncomfortable or harassed. Such is patronizing since she ignores the potentiality of the professor also feeling uncomfortable or harassed. Or, of course, in more general terms the potentiality of both the professor and student ending up in a state of love and happiness is ignored.
However the news reporter did ask Ack if a student could have a healthy relationship with a teacher. Note the questioner did not bother to ask if the professor could have a healthy relationship with a student. Her response was “I would say the odds are against you, but anything’s possible.” Anything is possible, I guess her response would be similar to believing that in Sarah Palin’s terms it is possible that President Obama could end up paling around with terrorists. And in the dankprofessor’s opinion it becomes a fool’s game to attempt to characterize almost any romantic relationship as healthy or unhealthy.
But all was not for naught in this article. There was one interviewee who appeared to be quite knowledgeable on issues related to student professor relationships.
Senior Emma Cohen is writing her senior humanities thesis on the discourse of sexual harassment and consensual relationship policies in universities, and its implications for pedagogy. She argues that fear of student-teacher relationships is based on the incorrect assumption that students are powerless in those situations. According to Cohen’s thesis, intimacy on certain levels can be productive in an academic relationship.
“While policies are rightly concerned about preventing exploitation of students, they tend to sort of shut down tendencies for personal intimacy without sex,” Cohen said.
Yes, Cohen’s bottom line is of critical importance. The fear and stigma that is occurring in regards to student professor relationships has led to all close relationships between students and professors becoming suspect. Too many profs fear that a close relationship with a student will lead to the imputation by others of a sexual component. Such leads to too many professors having an open door policy; open door policies simply do not facilitate closeness or intimacy. What it does facilitate is impersonality.
What this article fails to note is that student professor intimate relationships may very well lead to the discarding of the student professor labels. True intimacy undermines the power of such labels. In Martin Buber’s terms, an I-it relationship is replaced by an I-thou relationship. In this framework, it does not become surprising that the powers that be who are committed to preserving the ongoning hierarchy, almost always attempt to control love, love and marriage, and romance. The freedom to choose who to love and how to love simply has no place in authoritarian organizations. In such frameworks, love that crosses boundaries becomes the societal enemy par excellence.
If one wants to know about the sex life in explicit terms of a Harvard coed, then the blog to go to is Sex and the Ivy moderated by Lena Chen. The dankprofessor has been reading Lena’s blog for some time as she reports on her various sexual exploits and as others condemn her for being an exhibitionist and being unabashedly promiscuous. But Lena was not content. She was lonely and she wanted to find a special other but felt that such was unlikely because of her notorious reputation.
Now Lena reports in her most recent post that she has found the one in the form of her former sociology TF (Teaching Fellow). Her description of how this relationship was initiated and developed is probably the most detailed account of a “student-professor” relationship.
Lena’s relationship is a relationship that is inappropriate in terms of Harvard’s official policy. Said policy and the dankprofessor’s commentary follows Lena’s narrative-
…Then a couple weeks after my trip to New York, I found myself at dinner with a guy I mostly remembered for his inability to keep me awake during statistics. Patrick was eight years older, German, and a Ph.D candidate in my department. He also happened to be the most attractive person who’d ever been in charge of my grading me. Over the previous year and a half, my best friend Jason and I took three classes with Patrick, and though I’d like to say that it was because I found him impossibly charming, I was mostly just fulfilling sociology requirements. Nonetheless, I silently rejoiced every time I was assigned to his section, especially after I realized my piece of eye candy was a rather efficient and helpful teaching instructor and not merely a hot guy with a funny accent. To Patrick, however, I was then just a sleepy student. Statistics, which I got a C+ in, was a particularly harrowing experience. I recall Jason pinching me a lot in that class … and really not much else.
By the time Patrick and I finally went out, it’d been over two months since I last saw him and even longer since he graded one of my mediocre papers. The prelude to the actual date was fairly undramatic. Following a thinly veiled public declaration of my affection, initial contact was made over email and the date was suggested over text message. Well, actually, I suggested hooking up over text message. But Patrick, for some crazy reason I’ve still yet to figure out, thought that dinner would be more acceptable. I was pretty much thinking, “Yeah, this really isn’t necessary. Can we just fuck?” I somehow suppressed the urge to reveal this thought and along with it, my slutty nature. It would certainly be revealed soon enough.
I immediately gloated to Jason who called me crazy more than once and insisted that I was completely misinterpreting the situation and going to make things extremely awkward with a former TF who we actually might want to take classes with in the future. Basically, Jason had the mindset of someone who wanted to get into law school. I had the mindset of someone who wanted an interesting story to tell at post-grad cocktail parties. I was already getting started by telling every friend in close proximity about the TF fantasy-turned-reality and spent the day feeling rather smug about myself, despite a looming deadline for some mediocre paper I had not yet written. I probably would’ve taken out an announcement in The Crimson if possible. After all, it’s not everyday you get to fulfill a crush three semesters in the making.
Yet somehow, about an hour before the actual date, my excitement over going out with and potentially fucking my former TF turned into total trepidation over going out with and potentially fucking my former TF. What the hell was I getting myself into? I knew next-to-nothing about Patrick, even less about what to expect out of the evening, and I was pretty sure that Jason was right when it came to me totally misinterpreting the situation. By the time I got off the train to meet Patrick, I was ready to get right back on. In fact, I felt a mild wave of nausea, then panic, followed by paralyzing fear. Um, I had a date in five minutes and I was on the verge of an anxiety attack. After taking several deep breaths, I called Jason and told him, “I can’t do this. I’m about to hyperventilate.” Jason, ever so reasonable and probably fearful of jeopardizing his letter of recommendation by association with a whore whore slut, suggested calmly that I tell Patrick I was sick and then go home. Discouragement was exactly what I needed to snap out of it. “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” I declared. “You’re totally useless. I’ll call you when the date is over.”
About 30 seconds after the exchange with my truly unadventurous best friend, I found myself face-to-face with Patrick who looked considerably taller than I remembered and was dressed in decidedly un-academic clothing. He looked hot, and not even in a scholarly kind of way. Given our previously limited interaction and his non-American background, I didn’t have any idea how to read him. Maybe he thought that I’d be an easy lay, but then again, he always seemed so proper in class. No, it was more likely that his intentions were genuine, which was almost endearing. Here was a semi-awkward foreign grad student too culturally unaware to realize that asking out a former student is a mildly scandalous affair. Poor thing. Also, I thought: he so does not know about my sex blog. It occurs to me in retrospect that I was being extremely condescending, but in all likelihood, I probably employed every defense mechanism available to stay calm and feel in control. Surprisingly, as soon as we got into a cab and started talking, my anxiety dissipated along with my theory that Patrick was awkward with women and clueless about American prudishness. We compared frat life at Yale (where he did undergrad) to the final club scene at Harvard and discussed the “athletic” rivalry between our schools. Patrick actually seemed normal, and my stomach seemed calm. It appeared as if I was not going to puke after all.
Dinner was at a South End establishment with live music and dim lighting, the key facilitators to close-up conversation, which is like the foreplay to foreplay. It was a relatively grown-up venue given my recent romps in fraternity houses and dorm rooms, and I realized early in the evening that I felt uncharacteristically nervous. Typically on dates, I acted self-assured and liked to challenge guys by teasing them or being playfully argumentative. With Patrick, however, I couldn’t muster up my usual feistiness. I was so used to viewing him as an instructor that it seemed inappropriate to treat him like a peer. For the first time in a long while, I actually felt flustered. Patrick, on the other hand, was completely at ease which only disarmed me further. When I failed to look him in the eye while clinking glasses, he said to me, “You know what that means, right? Seven years of bad sex.” I almost choked on my drink. My TF just the word “sex” in a reference to me. Thankfully, my nerves were nothing alcohol couldn’t fix. I rarely drank but on this night, I happily chugged glass after glass of wine. Liquid courage along with Patrick’s disarming attitude made for surprisingly entertaining conversation. I was regaining my confidence and ten-fold at that. Two hours and several courses into the date, I put my hand on his knee and leaned in closer. I wanted to kiss him and was too drunk to even be subtle about it.
All in all, the turnaround from initial email to his cock in my mouth took about 24 hours. We had sex that first night. And again the next night. And then he went away to New York for two days, picked up the pair of flats I left at a West Village repair place during that miserable Valentine’s weekend, and returned them to me first thing when he got back, not even stopping by his apartment beforehand. I spent spring bouncing from my Harvard Square dorm to his place in Beacon Hill and summer bouncing from Kennedy’s Heidelberg flat to his home in Osnabrück. When September came, I paid a full month’s rent for a sublet I never moved into. I cancelled it and have been in Beacon Hill ever since.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like we went out and it was happily ever after that, not unless your fairy tales include Internet sex scandals advanced by overzealous online stalkers or unprecedented emotional outbursts from yours truly. The path toward cohabitation has hardly been a smooth one, but slowly, I infiltrated Patrick’s life and apartment to the point where breaking up would have been both awkward and inconvenient. And now, here we are today: me, Patrick, Hamlet, and two suitcases of my stuff under the bed! It’s more than I ever could’ve hoped for. And to think, all I wanted on our first date was to get laid.
I write all this because a year ago, I really, truly didn’t believe in the possibility of love (at least not for myself) and it wasn’t just because I was single during Valentine’s Day. My blog was a legitimate barrier to meeting guys, and as the nude photo leak and subsequent breakdown suggested, it was perhaps a barrier to, um, life. Maybe if my friends were different people, they would’ve told me to shut it down instead of insisting that I was lovable, blog or no blog. Maybe if I were a different person, I would’ve listened. I’m glad I didn’t, not just because my friends were right, but because I would’ve always thought from then on that the only desirable version of myself was the sanitized version. The fact that I’m now happily playing house with the Adorno-spouting, bulldog-owning German of my dreams indicates that there is hope for pretty much ANYONE out there. If I can finagle a boyfriend with my reputation and dismissive attitude toward dating “rules”, then love is a possibility for everyone.
Now here is the Harvard policy regarding relationships such as the one between Lena and Patrick-
Officers and other members of the teaching staff should be aware that any romantic involvement with their students makes them liable for formal action against them. Even when both parties have consented at the outset to the development of such a relationship, it is the officer or instructor who, by virtue of his or her special responsibility and educational mission, will be held accountable for unprofessional behavior. Graduate student teaching fellows, tutors, and undergraduate course assistants may be less accustomed than faculty members to thinking of themselves as holding professional responsibilities. They may need to exercise special care in their relationships with students whom they instruct, evaluate, or otherwise supervise, recognizing that their students might view them as more powerful than they may perceive themselves to be.
Amorous relationships between members of the Faculty and students that occur outside the instructional context can also lead to difficulties. In a personal relationship between an officer and a student for whom the officer has no current professional responsibility, the officer should be sensitive to the constant possibility that he or she may unexpectedly be placed in a position of responsibility for the student’s instruction or evaluation. This could involve being called upon to write a letter of recommendation or to serve on an admissions or selection committee involving the student. In addition, one should be aware that others may speculate that a specific power relationship exists even when there is none, giving rise to assumptions of inequitable academic or professional advantage for the student involved. Relationships between officers and students are always fundamentally asymmetric in nature.
So should Patrick and Lena be concerned that others may speculate that “a specific power relationship exists even when there is none”? Should they be concerned that others may think that there may be “inequitable academic or professional advantage for the student involved”? Should Lena and Patrick discard their relationship because it will always be “fundamentally asymmetric in nature”?
In terms of Lena’s description of the relationship, she and by implication Patrick, never gave a thought to the Harvard policy and warnings. The policy for them was probably an irrelevancy. And if it was an irrelevancy for them such should not be surprising since TF’s are essentially novices who are learning to navigate the teaching process. Those who wish to have the TF punished for what they consider to be a flagrant violation are simply out of order, whether they be in favor or in opposition to such rules. Learning by a novice as a result of ones “mistakes” represents a positive outcome; punishment of a novice for ones mistakes may very well represent a form of sadism or simply small-mindedness.
The irony for Lena who has flagrantly violated the societal dominant sexual norms as applied to women is that she now embraces a loving relationship in cohabitation which may be in violation of Harvard’s official norms as applied to students and teaching fellows. And it also should be piointed out that the Harvard rules, like most rules in this area, are ambiguous. But when it comes to sexual norms or rules, ambiguity almost always rules the day.
The dankprofessor believes that Lena has made a significant contribution albeit unintentional in exposing the utter absurdity and impossibility of Harvard’s policy regulating student professor relationships, a policy which is both anti-sexual and conformist in nature.
Click here to view Keith Olbermann’s impassioned commentary on the passage of Proposition 8. This should be required viewing for everyone.
Today’s New York Times Magazine had an interesting article entitled “Students of Virginity”. The dankprofessor found the headline to be a misnomer since I thought the article would deal with persons who study virginity, but my professorial instinct was wrong since the article dealt with college students who had made a commitment to remain abstinent until marriage. But at the risk of being too severe on the NY Times, the article was not really about students or college students involvement in the abstinence movement; rather it was primarily about Harvard students who had made an abstinence commitment, or at least a couple of Harvard students who had made such a commitment.
OK, enough for the caveats.The article focused on Harvard student Janie Fredell and how she made a transition from conservative Colorado Springs to Cambridge; how she made the transition form a culture of chastity to a culture of free sexuality.
Fredell began to understand she was in “a culture that says sex is totally O.K.” When a new boyfriend came to her, expressing desire, she managed to “stick to my guns,” she said, but there were “uncouth and socially inept” men, as she considered them, all around, and observing the rituals of her new classmates, Fredell couldn’t help being alarmed. “The hookup culture is so absolutely all-encompassing,” she said. “It’s shocking! It’s everywhere!”
She did nothing about it until her sophomore year. Then she began to read in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, about a new student group on campus – a band of celibates, men and women, calling themselves True Love Revolution. They were pushing, for reasons entirely secular, the cause of premarital sexual abstinence, and Fredell, by this time, was utterly committed to abstinence. She could hardly bear to see it ridiculed in The Crimson. An article about the group’s ice cream social appeared under the headline “Not Tonight, Honey, I Have a Brain Freeze.” A columnist who wrote about the group joked of getting “very, very aroused” just thinking about virgins and wondered if such people might be available for “dry humping.”
“It’s an odd thing to see one’s lifestyle essentially attacked in The Crimson,” Fredell said. She began to feel a need to stand up for her beliefs, and what she believed in more than anything at Harvard was the value of not having premarital sex. In an essay she wrote for The Crimson, she asserted that “virginity is extremely alluring,” though its “mysterious allure . . . is not rooted in an image of innocence and purity, but rather in the notion of strength.” As she told me later, “It takes a strong woman to be abstinent, and that’s the sort of woman I want to be.”
After the essay appeared a year ago, Fredell was immediately aware of a loss of privacy, of having entered “whatever it is, the public sphere.” As students began responding on The Crimson Web site, she understood that she had defined herself at Harvard. “Everything became very clear to me,” she recalled when we met. She would join True Love Revolution. “I realized it was bigger than me, more important.”
Of course, the name of the abstinence group, True Love Revolution, is somewhat presumptuous. Sex and love can be separate, but to presume that sex trumps true love would appear to me to represent fringe thinking. The article indicated that the group did its “first big outreach effort, on Valentine’s Day 2007. Members had sent out cards to the women of the freshmen class that read: “Why wait? Because you’re worth it.” Some interpreted the card to mean that those who didn’t wait until marriage to have sex would somehow be worth less. One writer for The Crimson concluded that “by targeting women with their cards and didactic message, they perpetuate an age-old values system in which the worth of a young woman is measured by her virginity.”"
What other interpretation of this outreach slogan could be given other than preserving virginity was equivalent to preserving ones worth?
Within a short period of time Fredell became Harvard’s most public student in advocacy of abstinence. Such did not represent any easy task since Harvard did not represent an abstinence friendly environment. Friedell saw her situation in these terms-
“People just don’t get it,” Fredell said. “Everyone thinks we’re trying to promote this idea of the meek little virgin female.” She said she was doing no such thing. “I care deeply for women’s rights,” she said. Fredell was studying not just religion but also gender politics – and was reading Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” alongside John Stuart Mill’s “Subjection of Women.” She had awakened to the wage gap, to forced sterilization and female genital mutilation – to the different ways that men have, she said, of controlling women. One of these was sexual. Fredell had seen it often in her own life – men pushing for sex, she said, just to “have something to say in the locker room,” women feeling pressured to have sex in order to maintain a relationship. The more she studied and learned, the more Fredell came to realize that women suffer from having premarital sex, “due to a cultural double standard,” she said, “which devalues women for their sexual pasts and glorifies men for theirs.”
The Times goes into depth with Fredell in terms of her difficulties relating to others in the context of her abstinence commitment, including the difficulties in relating to her boyfriend who had made the same commitment.
To provide a sexual balance for the Harvard scene, the Times interviewed Harvard student Lena Chen who has come to be seen as representing sexual freedom via her blogging. The Times reported-
Chen’s viewpoint, as she explained it to me, was not complicated. “For me, being a strong woman means not being ashamed that I like to have sex,” she said. And “to say that I have to care about every person I have sex with is an unreasonable expectation. It feels good! It feels good!”
Ultimately, Chen and Fredell come together in dramatic form in a debate on sexual freedom vs. sexual abstinence-
THE DEBATE between Fredell and Chen was described on Ivygate, a blog about Ivy League news and gossip. The blogger dutifully recorded that both women looked their parts – Fredell “modestly dressed in jeans” and Chen wearing “a miniskirt that left little to the imagination.” More than a hundred students crowded into a meeting room of Winthrop House, an undergraduate residence, and Fredell said that most of them just wanted “a huge cat fight.”
She and Chen had agreed beforehand, however, to focus on finding “common ground.” What they found, as Chen told me, was that both of them were “out there publicly declaring” who they are. They admitted that they were both, in their own ways, advertising sex appeal. The Crimson pointed out that “both have come under attack for their extreme attitudes toward sex,” and Fredell said they were able to bond over being attacked.
By underscoring their similarities and demonstrating mutual respect for each other, Fredell said she hoped to suggest to the audience that perhaps True Love Revolution was a friendly force at Harvard – and also deserving of a little respect. The Crimson, though, declared the whole event “boring!” and without open disagreement, the debate seems to have been resolved almost as a beauty contest. Two women sitting side by side, posing a silent question to the audience: which of us do you find more appealing?
Chen knew, as she told me later, that “the culture reacts differently when women make the same decisions men do.” Her own decisions were public knowledge, because she revealed them on her blog. Chen’s perspective on society, and Fredell’s, was borne out in the aftermath, as people wrote in to Ivygate, calling Lena Chen a “slut,” a “whore,” a “total whore,” a “whore whore slut.” And then someone by the screen name of Sex v. Marriage wrote in to say that “most guys out there would rather end up with a girl like Janie.”
Fredell was happy that the event had drawn a large crowd. She told me later that she considered it one of the revolution’s finest moments.
What ended up happy was not so happy for Chen. For both women, becoming a public figure in terms of sexual issues was no easy task. But, I gather to Chen’s surprise, her openness in regards to her sexuality was dealt with by many with hostility and sexual name calling. The after effects of the debate led to Chen putting her blog on suspension. However, Lena did do a blog entry today describing how she has been coping with her public notoriety and her reaction to the NY Times piece. I urge dankprofessor blog readers to read Lena’s most recent blog entry. As for the part of her post on the NY Times article, here it is-
Another thing: I have a slight bone to pick with the New York Times for their description of me as a “small Asian woman in a miniskirt and stilettos”. For starters, I was wearing a Cynthia Rowley dress that day and those who know the designer would agree that she hardly makes anything that could be mistaken for a miniskirt. My heels were also far less precarious and more conservative than stilettos (I remember because it was raining and even I wouldn’t have attempted such ambitious footwear on Cambridge’s brick-lined roads). Also, was it really relevant to add “Asian” to the description when my ethnic background had no bearing on the story and my last name already made it evident? And “small”? Really? Is it necessary to couple that with “Asian”? Perhaps I’m being oversensitive, but the whole eight-word description makes me cringe. It reduces me to a New England dragon lady, which is totally inaccurate from the truth but totally suitable for the purposes of portraying me as Janie Fredell’s polar opposite. Maybe that works for the Times‘ purposes but one-dimensional characters don’t make up real life.
The dankprofessor loves Lena’s last line. Yes, one-dimensional characters don’t make up real life, but they do generally populate news life, or if you will, public life. Of course, many of us feed off one-dimensionality. How can we change our complex selves so we eagerly reject one-dimensionality and eagerly embrace multi-dimensionality? One place we can look for multi-dimensionality, might be on Lena’s sexandtheivy blog. Hopefully her post today will not be her last post.
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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008
In what the dankprofessor considers a bizarre ruling, the Israeli National Labor Court found that a sexual relationship between an employer and employee can never be considered consensual even if the employee was the initiator and seducer. And if the relationship was purely sexually focused, the employer has engaged in sexual harassment.
The court stated- “in cases of a relationship that is in essence opportunistic sexual relations in the workplace, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the superior, even if it proven that the subordinate seduced him.”
According to the Jerusalem Post, women activists and experts in work relations have welcomed the court decision even though the relationship was voluntary and mutual and may have been initiated by the subordinate.
Attorney for the plaintiff, Sigal Pa’il stated “there must be a clear and unequivocal message regarding the norms of conduct in hierarchical relations at the workplace to turn it as much as possible into a sterile place free of intimate relations between employer and employee. The Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law imposes extra responsibility on the employer to prevent sexual harassment, especially inside the workplace.”
A panel of five judges awarded damages to a 43-year-old woman who maintained a sexual relationship with the chief engineer of the company. As reported by the Jerusalem Post-
The chief engineer was head of several departments, including the one in which the plaintiff worked. The relationship was entirely sexual and took place in the office, in the car on the way to or from work and at the beach. Each was married when they met.
The district court accepted the man’s claim that the woman had flirted with and tried to seduce him. It also ruled that the plaintiff was obliged to provide stronger proof to back her charges than she would in ordinary civil suit.
Nonetheless, National Labor Court Judge Varda Wirth Livne wrote that “I place the main burden of responsibility on the person who had the authority and attribute less responsibility to the employee who worked under him.
“This is the precedent which I would like to bring to my decision. When we are talking about a relationship that entails nothing more than occasional sex in the security room of the work place, and when, even according to the superior’s version, the relationship did not include anything more than sex, all the responsibility falls on the superior and there is no relevance to the fact that the employee tried to seduce him by wearing provocative clothes or acting in a certain way.” Wirth Livne added that “the aim of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law is to convey a message to employers and superiors that sexual-intimate relations between a superior and an employee which includes no more than sexual acts in the work place should be perceived as inappropriate behavior which should be regarded as sexual harassment while exploiting one’s authority.”
So if one is to take Judge Varda Livne seriously, then a relationship in the workplace between an employer and employee involving both love and sex would be “acceptable”. Some how I doubt that love would be allowed to trump sex.
The dankprofessor also doubts the Jerusalem Post’s characterization that “women activists and experts in work relations have welcomed the court decision”. Have women activists in Israel really reached a level where they would eagerly embrace such a convoluted decision?
The attorney for the plaintiff did get it right when he stated that this decision will help to turn the workplace as much as possible into a sterile place free of intimate relations. And the consequences of this decision and similar court decisions do lead to sterile workplaces and when applicable to sterile university places. The tragedy and the absurdity is that too many people welcome such sterility although the welcoming may very well be for other people and not for themselves.
ADDENDUM- Some how the dankprofessor missed, but what should have been obvious, is that the court embraced the campus feminist cant that differential power precludes consent. Unfortunately, this genre of American feminism has found a home in Israeli courts.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008
And the dankprofessor does not have in mind anything to do with the Spitzer case. Love contracts in the workplace have become increasing used in the context of the efforts to bans consensual relationship being a dismal failure. A summary of the key aspects of love contracts as presented by attorney Joseph W. Gagnon follows and then I will have some comments as to the applicability of these love contracts to the university.
The essential elements. Although the precise language will vary, an effective love contract should contain the following disclosures: 1. The relationship is consensual and is not based on intimidation, threat, coercion or harassment; 2. The employees have received, read, understood and agree to abide by the company’s policy against harassment and discrimination; 3. The employees agree to act appropriately in the workplace and avoid any behavior that is offensive to others; 4. The employees agree not to let their relationship affect their work or the work of their co-employees; 5. Neither employee will bestow upon the other any favoritism or preferential treatment; 6. Either employee may end the relationship at any time and no retaliation of any kind will result; 7. The human resources department will include its contact information in case either employee feels the relationship is affecting his or her work; and 8. The employees have had sufficient time to read the document and ask questions before executing it of his or her own free will.
. Unenforceability as a contract is a nonissue. Whether the document is an enforceable contract almost doesn’t matter, because the real strength of a love contract lies in the nature of the acknowledgements made. It shows that the employer took affirmative steps to maintain a workplace free from sexual harassment and retaliation, and it serves as powerful evidence that, at least at the time of execution, the relationship was consensual. Finally, it reaffirms that both employees are aware of the existence of a policy prohibiting sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation and their obligation to abide by it.
. A love contract will not prevent all litigation, but it will assist an employer’s defense. Like any other step an employer takes, a love contract can be a strong deterrent to employee claims, but it will not prevent all future litigation arising out of a workplace relationship. Nevertheless, a love contract will, if nothing else, lay the groundwork for a solid defense should litigation ensue. For example, an aggrieved employee can still claim he or she suffered retaliation after a breakup, but a love contract confirming that the relationship began consensually should support a defense that the perceived post-relationship retaliation was based on personal animosity rather than gender-based discrimination.
. Considerations before utilizing love contracts. Although not a concern in Texas, a GC should confirm whether privacy laws of the jurisdiction where the business operates prohibit or limit employer monitoring of workplace relationships. Also consider how to present the idea of a love contract to a couple; unless a relationship is brought to the employer’s attention, the employer must exercise sound judgment in deciding when to address what a manager’s own observations may lead him or her to suspect is a budding relationship. Decide in advance what to do if one of the participants denies the relationship or refuses to sign the document. Finally, since there is no one way of developing an effective love contract, a GC should retain experienced labor and employment counsel to draft the appropriate language that meets the particular needs and objectives of the GC’s company.
Properly implemented and appropriately drafted, love contracts will reduce the likelihood of litigation arising from workplace relationships. In the event of litigation, an effective love contract will bolster an employer’s defenses and increase the prospect for prevailing on summary judgment or at trial.
For the dankprofessor, love contracts as described by Joseph Gagnon definitely appear to be applicable to the university. However, I have not been able to find a single university which has employed a love contract or seriously considered a love contract to deal with student professor consensual sexual relationships. I can only speculate why such is the case. And my speculations are governed by the reasons given by the prohibitors of student professor relationships.
Most likely a reason that would be given to oppose these contracts is that it is impossible to stop prejudicial grading by the professor. When I have been challenged about my own past practices as a professor and I indicate that my grading of the loved one was not impacted by our relationship, many people state that they just do not believe me; they indicate it is an impossibility. Another reason might be that the underlying framework for these bans is that differential power precludes consent and therefore as a result of this situation the student is in a state of diminished capacity and could not consent to a sexual relationship with the professor and would not be able to engage in consent as part of a love contract.
Such are the hypotheticals. What I believe is the major reason for no consideration in the university place is simply that the banning agenda is anti-sexual, and the application of a love contract would function to legitimize these sexual relationships. In the workplace, concern about sexual relationships is generally of a pragmatic kind- avoid litigation. Of course, those companies which have an anti-sexual agenda would not embrace a love contract.
And one additional observation by the dankprofessor, love contracts would seem to me to be a misnomer at least as applied to the university. Universities are not attempting to ban love; their attempt is to ban sex, and I cannot recall a single university policy where love is mentioned. The professor who falls in love with a student and the loves remains a secret love has really no place to turn in the context of attempting to engage in non-prejudicial grading. Can one seriously entertain a professor being excused to grade a student because he or she is in love with the student? Of course, those most vociferously advocating these bans, committed campus purity feminists, have dehumanized male professors to such a degree that they do not consider them to be capable of love. They see them in terms of being lechers, predators, seducers, harassers, abusers, rapists, but as lovers, I have my doubts.
I hope to have more posts on love contracts. Input from blog readers on love contracts will be greatly appreciated!
If you wish, you can write to me directly at email@example.com
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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008
The Sacramento Business Journal has THE solution; they know how to protect business owners, particularly small business owners, from the pitfalls of intraoffice romance and sexual harassment lawsuits
Quoting from the business journal-
“Advisers to small businesses agree that a company can’t forbid romantic relationships in the workplace, but say they should consider policies that strongly discourage dating, especially between supervisors and subordinates. Experts also say companies should clearly outline policies on harassment and dating in an employee handbook — something many small businesses lack.
Love can bloom between coworkers at any time. Companies small and large would be wise to make sure an employee handbook is in place and policies on relationships are included, said Panda Morgan, director of the Greater Sacramento Small Business Development Center.
An employee handbook might seem like a trivial aspect of business, but it can be an important tool when relationships turn sour and harassment complaints or wrongful termination claims are made.
“The problem with small businesses is most don’t have employee handbooks because they don’t really see a need until something happens, and they realize their hands are tied and they can’t do anything about it,” Morgan said.”
After reading this article, The dankprofessor went out into the field in search of the handbook. He found one entitled THE HANDY HANDBOOK OF OFFICE LOVE which was revised from the pioneer HANDY HANDBOOK ON UNIVERSITY LOVE*. No date or publisher listed. The dankprofessor will summarize the core handbook rules-
NO HANDS IN POCKETS
HANDS ON THE TABLE
NO HANDY MEN
HANDLE WITH CARE
NO SHAKY HANDS
NO HANDSOME MEN
and if all else fails- KEEP HANDS CUFFED AT ALL TIMES.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008
Valentine’s day this year at the office may very well be better than the Valentine’s days of the recent past. According to many, romance in the office is flourishing.
Yesterday psychologist Susan Pinker reported that “surveys on office love affairs reveal they’re incredibly common, with about 10 million consensual romances developing between co-workers each year in the U.S. That’s the equivalent of the population of a small European nation meeting at the photocopier, year after year…In fact, studies designed to probe the private lives of executives, and managers by such august groups as the Society of Human Resource Management and the U.S. Bureau of National Affairs simply document the obvious: Now that we’re spending most of our time at the office, that’s the place to meet prospects, with a third of all romances starting out in the workplace.”
Workers aren’t just interested in dating their peers. PR News Wire reports “that twenty-seven percent of workers admit they have dated someone with a higher position in their organization; female workers more so than males, at 37 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Ninety-eight percent of workers said their relationship with someone at work did nothing to progress their career.”
Pinker goes on to report that “half of the romantic relationships that begin at work last, resulting in marriage or a long term relationship, while only 5 per cent provoke formal complaints…Let’s face it: offices are “natural theatres” for social and sexual interaction, a phrase coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild. As such, there’s great potential for drama, but also for applause…If the new couple has even a chance to be happy, the team should back off and just let these folks be.”
Unfortunately it’s that 5 per cent that gets upset when love is seen as blooming in the workplace. And they have at their disposal lawyers who are at their call and become united with the Linda Tripps of the world in their love of money.
But in any case, Pinker gets it right. If only we could “just let these folks be”. Or in the words of the Beatles, “Let It Be”.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at email@example.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008
The dankprofessor has argued that at the core of banning student professor sexual relationships is an anti sexual dynamic, a dynamic that is often stated in rather stark terms which puts such relationships in a child molestation framework with the professor being the sexual predator and the student being the innocent child or childlike female student. Some times the framework is closer to a rape framework with the professor being an adult rapist and the student an adult or near adult rape victim. Whatever be the specifics of the framework, the outcome is the same- the female student is unable to give consent. This sounds pretty outlandishly anti-sexual . However, some have argued that this sexual banning really is not anti-sexual, and that the reason for such bans is to protect the grading process, to eliminate the possibility that the enamored professor will prejudicially grade the loved one. To put the argument in a nutshell, professors are committed to non-prejudicial grading and sacrificing the rights of students and professors from loving each other in a grading context is a necessary sacrifice. On the surface this sounds like a reasonable argument. However, the overwhelming predominant academic reality is that professors provide only lip service to the sacredness of the grading process; lip service since professors generally do not emotionally invest themselves in grading; “good” grading does not help one get hired, promoted or tenured. Investing oneself in good grading, emphasizing how one is a committed non-prejudicial grader will not help one advance in academia. At whatever university and in whatever discipline, valued and remembered professors will be remembered as good teachers or good researchers or good scholars and not as outstanding non-prejudicial graders.
And given the lack of value put on grading, there is little or no emphasis on the prevention of prejudicial grading. There are no workshops on the prevention of prejudicial grading. There is much rhetoric in contemporary academic life about matters relating to race, gender and class, but nothing of a formal or informal nature directed toward professors as to how to avoid race, class and gender biases as such effect the grading process, whether the grading relates to grading a student one likes or one dislikes. One can politically and ideologically bond with students, one can fight and demonstrate with students to take back the night, but hardly anyone argues that one cannot grade these same students. Of course, students frequently complain that professors engage in prejudicial grading, that so and so students received a high grade because the professor liked him or her. But such talk is seen by almost all professors as just talk, certainly no talk that would lead one to take some sort of action or to lead the talked about to take a self-inventory.
If professors were really concerned about prejudicial grading, they would overtly demand that faculty deal with what heretofore has been unmentionable- that faculty, both male and female faculty, both married and unmarried faculty, both feminist and sexist professors are sexually attracted and sometimes very sexually attracted to some of their students some of the time. Every person who has ever professed knows this to be true and every professor know that being differentially attracted to students can lead to differential grading to some degree based on said attractiveness. Of course, we all know that the the physically attractive, the beautiful people are advantaged in just about all sectors of everyday life.
Robert Cialdini, in Influence: Science and Practice, summarizes the dynamic in these terms-
“Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence (for a review of this evidence, see Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani, & Longo, 1991). Furthermore, we make these judgments without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process. Some consequences of this unconscious assumption that “good-looking equals good” scare me. For example, a study of the 1974 Canadian federal elections found that attractive candidates received more than two and a half times as many votes as unattractive candidates (Efran & Patterson, 1976). Despite such evidence of favoritism toward handsome politicians, follow-up research demonstrated that voters did not realize their bias. In fact, 73 percent of Canadian voters surveyed denied in the strongest possible terms that their votes had been influenced by physical appearance; only 14 percent even allowed for the possibility of such influence (Efran & Patterson, 1976). Voters can deny the impact of attractiveness on electability all they want, but evidence has continued to confirm its troubling presence (Budesheim & DePaola, 1994).
A similar effect has been found in hiring situations. In one study, good grooming of applicants in a simulated employment interview accounted for more favorable hiring decisions than did job qualifications – this, even though the interviewers claimed that appearance played a small role in their choices (Mack & Rainey, 1990). The advantage given to attractive workers extends past hiring day to payday. Economists examining U.S. and Canadian samples have found that attractive individuals get paid an average of 12-14 percent more than their unattractive coworkers (Hammermesh & Biddle, 1994).
Equally unsettling research indicates that our judicial process is similarly susceptible to the influences of body dimensions and bone structure. It now appears that good-looking people are likely to receive highly favorable treatment in the legal system (see Castellow, Wuensch, & Moore, 1991; and Downs & Lyons, 1990, for reviews). For example, in a Pennsylvania study (Stewart, 1980), researchers rated the physical attractiveness of 74 separate male defendants at the start of their criminal trials. When, much later, the researchers checked court records for the results of these cases, they found that the handsome men had received significantly lighter sentences. In fact, attractive defendants were twice as likely to avoid jail as unattractive defendants. In another study – this one on the damages awarded in a staged negligence trial – a defendant who was better looking than his victim was assessed an average amount of $5,623; but when the victim was the more attractive of the two, the average compensation was $10,051. What’s more, both male and female jurors exhibited the attractiveness-based favoritism (Kulka & Kessler, 1978).
Other experiments have demonstrated that attractive people are more likely to obtain help when in need (Benson, Karabenic, & Lerner, 1976) and are more persuasive in changing the opinions of an audience (Chaiken, 1979)…”
And the dankprofessor asks, are there any believers that such is different in the academic world, that physical attractiveness plays no role in grading and in academic gamesmanship in general?
If professors were really honest about this dynamic and at the same time committed to non-prejudicial grading, what might they do to minimize prejudicial grading? Might they recuse themselves from grading attractive students? Not possible. Might the university have dual classes, one class for the attractive and the other for the non-attractive? No way. But what about bringing about what had been not a rarity in the past in academia and that is the introduction of a student dress code. And the dress code would be that students dress in an absolutely uniform and bland manner, and that code be strictly enforced by administrators who have been specially trained to create and enforce dress codes. Unquestionably, there would be misdirected faculty and students who would hold such a code to be in violation of student civil liberties and rights. But the sacrifice of such rights would be a small sacrifice to make in the pursuit of fair and non-prejudicial grading. And, of course, students and professors have been asked (demanded) that they sacrifice the right to have sex with each other, the right to romance each other, the right to love each other all in the supposed name of protecting fair and non-prejudicial grading. And if as has been pointed out by banning advocates that students have not fully developed the ability to consent in sexual matters why would one assume that these same students have developed the ability to decide how to dress on an everyday basis? Better to let the specially trained to decide how you dress as long as you are a student at our university.
OK, for the distraught students who believe that they just can’t accept a dress code, they better get with the code or they will get a public dressing down. And remember Big Brother and Big Sister loves all students equally in all their surface blandness and sameness. No need to fret about the physically attractive getting an unfair better deal. Right?
More to follow in upcoming posts.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008
One of the very best and also the most passionate defenses of student professor sexual relationships has been by
Cristina Nehring, “The Higher Yearning; Bringing eros back to academe,” HARPER’S MAGAZINE, September 1, 2001.
Unfortunately, there is no full text copy available of this article online. It merits reading by all persons seriously interested
in issues relating to student professor fraternization. This is a lengthy article, and following is what I consider to be the
key excerpts from this article. Do get the full text copy of this article. And do savor the forthcoming excerpts. Do keep in mind that this writing is writing that the advocates of banning student professor sexual relationships do not want you to read. It is NEVER cited by these advocates. I will comment on aspects of this article in upcoming posts.Following are the article excerpts-
…Teacher-student chemistry is what sparks much of the best work that goes on at universities, today as always. It need not be reckless; it need not be realized. It need not even be articulated, or mutual. In most cases, in fact, it is none of these. In most cases, academic eros works from behind the scenes. It lingers behind the curtain and ensures that the production onstage is strong. It ensures that the work in the classroom is charged, ambitious, and vigorous. In most cases, it would be counterproductive for it to emerge, itself, into the limelight. That said, it occasionally does. And when it does, it must not be criminalized. For the university campus on which the erotic impulse between teachers and students is criminalized is the campus on which the pedagogical enterprise is deflated. It is the campus on which pedagogy is gutted and gored. This, unfortunately, is the scenario that confronts us today.
My own success would have been perfect had I elected in the last few years to sue my fiance, a professor at the university where I am completing a doctorate, for our relationship. In fact, the suit was very nearly made on my behalf, and against my will. When his superiors learned of our relationship, the wheels of justice and punishment began, immediately, to turn. No matter that I had never taken a class with him, or that I worked in a different department; no matter that we had met off-campus, or, most importantly, that I did not feel in any shape or form harassed by him. Nobody cared. My view of the matter was declared “irrelevant.” As a graduate student, I was presumably too “disempowered” to judge of my own abuse. Deans wrote letters; chairs made calls; hiring committees were warned of the “seriousness of the offense”; jobs were threatened–and I went unconsulted.
…In our enlightened contemporary university, men walk on eggshells and women run from shadows. Every gesture is suspect: if a colleague compliments you on your dress, it smacks of sexism; if a professor is friendly, he is readying you for future sexual abuse. There is no kindness so innocent that women educated in the “patterns” of harassment cannot recognize it as an instance of the newly identified activity experts refer to as “grooming” the victim for the kill. Academic encouragement, easy jesting, an affectionate epithet–all of what used to be the currency of good fellowship as well as teaching–have become cause for vigilance, fodder for complaint, the stuff of suits.
Were the rhetoric of the sexual-harassment authorities pursued with any consistency, it would deepen the rift between classes and between races just as fast as it has, in effect, restored the rift between the sexes. For what is the main trope of university harassment discourse? “Power differential.” Under no circumstances, we hear with metronomic regularity, may we countenance a “power differential” in intimate relationships. A teaching assistant not only should not but cannot give consent to a union with an assistant professor, suggests Billie Dziech, speaking for the consensus of harassment experts in the Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy (1999)…
The crackdown on power differentials in student-professor (or senior colleague-junior colleague) relationships presupposes a power-balance in non-pedagogic relationships that is completely fictitious. Where, one might ask, are the symmetrical relationships? If a student falls in love with a lawyer, is that more symmetrical? Should we outlaw relationships between students and nonstudents too? What about between good students and bad students? Rich students and poor students? Were we honest about our disdain for power imbalance we would have to legislate as emphatically against discrepancies in cultural, economic, and racial clout (to give a few examples) as against those in professional clout. It would be well-nigh impossible because of the endless and conflicting ways in which power manifests itself once we relinquish a simplistic model. (If there is “power” in academic rank, for instance, there is power in youth too–in physical attractiveness, in energy. There is power, even, in yet-to-be-fulfilled promise–power in time.) To the extent that such legislation succeeded, it would be a disaster–a reactionary dystopia, a hierarchical hell to which the way had been paved with liberal intentions.
One of the astonishing strengths of love and sex is that it can make boundaries between people so easy to break. It can glide, smiling, around social, vocational, and linguistic roadblocks; it can disarm difference, banish history, slice through power divides. It can ease the passage into another culture, mind, generation, or world. As was discovered by Jane Gallop–who seduced her professors as a student and her students as a professor (for which she was accused of sexual harassment in 1992 with far more reason than most)–sex is a great “leveler.” As suspect as Gallop may be in her egotism and promiscuity, in this she is right. Sex is a great leveler, and not just in the bedroom. The most surprising thing you learn when you fall in love with a sage or a student, a prince or a pauper, is not that you can sleep with him but that you can talk with him. This is something understood–unexpectedly, perhaps–by Philip Roth. The highly cultured hero of his new campus novel, The Dying Animal, may have been “inaccessible to [his student lover] in every other arena” but the sexual when they first met–so he says, and, given his general misanthropy, this is probably true. But for all the ways in which their liaison is compromised, what the mannerly Cuban coed and the transgressive Jewish pundit discover is that they can actually talk to each other. The same is true of the cleaning woman in Roth’s previous novel, The Human Stain, who discovers that she can arouse the college dean mentally as much as physically. He can confide in her more than he ever could in his yuppie kids and bookish colleagues. She finds in the privileged, overeducated septuagenarian her first playmate, the first person she can tease and trust.
Legend has it that love is blind. And lust is blind. Just sometimes, though, they are clairvoyant. They take the glaze from our eyes. They prompt us to look through the odd, unfamiliar exterior of our neighbors and detect a familiar soul, a soul with which, to our surprise, we can communicate. Indifference and industry have made more men blind than eros. If Cupid wears a blindfold now and then, Mammon wears a hood.
One of the least disputed objections to classroom erotics is that they constitute, in the words of harassment author Leslie Pickering Francis, a “distraction from teaching, learning, and research.” Nothing could be further from the truth. To say that chemistry between a student and a teacher distracts from learning is like saying that color distracts from seeing. It does not distract; it enlivens, enhances, intensifies: it fixes the gaze. It gives teeth to the eyes, a digestive tract to the brain.
I will go out on a limb and admit that if crushes between students and teachers could have been prevented when I was in college, I would never have made it through. The fact that I graduated summa cum laude is testimony to the number of crushes that sustained me, that kept me edgy, and eager, and engaged. At the beginnings of quarters I shopped around for teachers to have a crush on, and it was a sad term, a long term, when I found none. I tried. I fanned the flame of minor lights–knowing full well that if I could not generate at least a little heat my mind would freeze.
I do not advocate making a habit of sleeping with professors, but then I would not advocate making a habit of sleeping with plumbers, or realtors, or artists either. I do advocate the exception. If a professor and student fall in love mutually–and let us admit that there are more occasions for this to occur than exist for a professor and a plumber–then there should not be a law or code or set of mores to stop them from giving that love an opportunity to succeed. It may not: as the new campus moralists observe, “the vast majority of students who enter into affairs with their lecturers … do not subsequently report that they were glad to have had the experience. Quite the contrary.” Most relationships don’t succeed–most non-faculty-student relationships don’t succeed, if by success we mean that they go on forever. And when people come out of them, they unfortunately do not often “report that they were glad to have had the experience” either–at least not right afterward. Divorce courts are full of people who say the opposite. We do not, therefore, outlaw marriage.
I learned about more than Renaissance literature from the man I loved as a freshman. Contrary to popular opinion, the relationship did not reinforce my student sense of inferiority; it eliminated it. As much as I admired my teacher, I also found I could talk with him; I had something to offer him that had nothing to do with the old cliches of youth and beauty. Or if it had to do with them, then long live mixed motives, for they certainly were not the most important or lasting cause of our understanding–an understanding that has grown over the last decade and sparked a vivid and voluble literary correspondence. The relationship enfranchised me intellectually; it gave me a voice, and faith in it. And it did this even though, at the outset, it also drew me into the goofiest excesses of adolescent adoration. It drew me to abandon my slot at a top university in order to trek across the country to an obscure one, at which my teaching assistant had just accepted his first professorship. It prompted me to fake an interest in that school’s religious affiliations while working a job as a live lingerie model in a shady local bar to pay my increased private-school dues. It also led me to flee the lightest coffee invitation from my idol. It was not until I returned home (my funds ran out; my talents as a model were limited) that our conversations really began. But even this–the experience of following my heart, however on the surface, vainly–was good for me. It made the love poems I was reading real, immediate, and practical. It was the laboratory component of the Amorous Theory I was assimilating.
All is fair in love and war; people must take their chances, and students are no exception. University students are not children, and women are not children, though to hear harassment officers talk one would think so. They are also not desireless deadwood; they do not drift about aimlessly until angled by a “Lecherous Professor.” They are perfectly capable of finding a professor themselves and seducing him–in fact, I would guess, on the basis of admittedly anecdotal evidence, that this happens far more frequently than the reverse.
Harassment specialists seem unable to believe that female students have the desire or enterprise of an Alcibiades. They do. And the position that they do not–albeit held, as it often is, by bedrock feminists–seems strangely sexist. Why should Greek men have initiative and eros, and American women none? Why should contemporary coeds emerge from a romantic encounter with a teacher–even, as a textbook on the subject tells us, “the most `consensual’ appearing”–with “devastation … real and intense” and “self-esteem” so shattered it demands “years of therapy and reconstructing,” when nobody thinks for one moment that young men like Alcibiades or Agathon sustain incurable wounds? It is only women’s experience that is assumed to be traumatic beyond comprehension or repair. It is only women who are taken to be as frail and faltering as they are devoid of lust and luster. Sexism can be paternalistic as well as aggressive (historically, it more often was), and this is sexism writ large, no matter who’s spreading it.
And it is bad for pedagogy. It’s one thing to disarm a certain type of old-school professor who thought that his students’ bodies (as well as their research and briefcase-toting services) were his birthright. It’s one thing to discourage gross sexist speech and to counsel caution in the initiation of student-teacher relationships. But it is another to stamp out playful and affectionate discourse just because it carries a sexual innuendo and may even, on occasion, make us “uncomfortable.” It is quite another, also, to try to ban professor-student relationships altogether. Knowledge is unremittingly personal: the best students fall in love with teachers; the most engaged teachers respond strongly–and variously–to students. The campus on which the chance of sexual harassment–of sexual “impropriety” between teachers and students–is eliminated is the campus on which pedagogy is eviscerated. It is the campus on which pedagogy is dead.
It is a part of our safety-obsessed culture that we try. In a country where we give children crash helmets with their tricycles (and kneepads with their strollers), perhaps it is no wonder that we give them The Lecherous Professor with their college admissions. Perhaps it is no surprise that we lament, with Leslie Pickering Francis, the possibility that they may not prove “rational consumers of romantic relationships in the way they might be rational consumers of products”; and that we consequently forbid them any romance with a teacher in which they are, to quote David Archard, another expert, “unlikely to be able to determine, for instance, how long it lasts”–as though one were ever able to “determine” how long a relationship lasts; as though lovers were supposed to be “rational consumers.” Love is not commerce; a relationship is not a safety-tested Tonka toy–and any attempt to make it such is bound to be catastrophic. It leads, among other things, to the bizarre situation of our contemporary American society, in which we are in principle forbidden to have relationships not merely with our students (if we are teachers) and our teachers (if we are students) but also with our doctors, lawyers, counselors, therapists, deans, co-workers, clients, employees, or employers–virtually anyone, in fact, with whom we might come into natural contact in the course of everyday life. The result? We find ourselves driven in numbers to dating services and singles clubs, where we spend large amounts of money to meet normal people in abnormal and usually highly stressful contexts. We join volunteer organizations that feel like meat markets, as a majority of members look out more vigilantly for the available bachelor than for the nominal cause of the day. Artificial contexts provoke artificial behavior: we make ill-informed and hasty choices–dating, after all, is such a chore this way–and end up in marriages from which we soon ache to escape. If this is an overstatement, it is less of one than those we hear regularly from the sexual-harassment police.
Should we have forbidden Camille Claudel and Rodin? Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger? Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud? Allan Bloom and his student lovers? Professor bell hooks and her student boyfriend? Heloise and Abelard? To be sure, not one of these relationships, each initially pedagogic, was perfect (which is?), but all were spectacularly productive, revelatory, heated, and formative for both parties–in several cases, formative for Western culture and philosophy. The most beautiful and authentic and complex love poems I know were written by a teacher to his student. They were written by John Donne, in the early seventeenth century, to his employer’s niece, with whom he eloped, and for whom he suffered loss of reputation, money, and career for the next quarter century. Not long after Donne penned these poems, John Milton–whose marriage sustained no similar power differential–drafted “The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.”
If you wish, you can write to me directly at email@example.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008
ABOUT MEN; A Fulfillment
MY OLDEST SON is 39 years old, my youngest barely 1. The nearly four decades that separate them include my entire professional career, from graduate school into retirement. They include, too, the births of my grandchildren, two failed marriages and then marriage, once again, to someone too young to remember the Beatles. I, at 67, remember silent movies.
A man in his 60′s does not expect to fall in love with a woman of 18, and much less does he expect her to fall in love with him. Past failures had, in any case, left me cynical. But this beautiful student, whom I would so unpredictably marry five years later, never had any doubts almost from our first accidental encounter. She had, I eventually learned, seen me sometimes from her dormitory window and pronounced me ridiculous, but our lives were changed by our meeting and by the letters back and forth that soon followed. The constancy of her feelings, which made irrelevant to her our difference of age, finally replaced my cynicism with gratitude and wonder.
I was not much aware of the passage of the years until my infant son, who will rejoice under the name Aristotle Eli, made his existence deeply felt in my life. I had always mingled easily with students and was surprised whenever they referred to some of my colleagues as the younger professors. Even the start of my Social Security and annuity checks had little impact on my feelings. I got the senior-citizen discount on movie tickets, sometimes on dinners too. Such benefits extend to spouses, so my wife was entitled to them too, but we never claimed them. She was too young for that part of the senior citizens’ world. Even I felt out of place there.
I have raised children of my own before, as well as a little stepdaughter who now has her Ph.D., but fatherhood this time is totally different. I had no role with my other children until they came home from the hospital with their mother. This time my wife and I went several weeks to baby classes in joint preparation for birth, and I saw my son lifted from her womb. My wife, expecting me to draw from experience, sometimes raises elementary questions of infant care which I cannot answer at all.
There are two other big differences, both psychological. One is readily understood and was almost predictable. The other is profound and touches upon the meaning of life.
Death had always seemed to me 100 years away until my new son was born. Now I began to feel the passing of every precious day. My thinking had always been given over to abstractions. Now mundane concerns began to press in on me. I immediately felt the need for life insurance, lots of it. Until the baby came, I had no clear idea what insurance I had. This was quickly attended to, and I passed the required physical exam easily enough. Then I composed a will. I looked at my investments, which had been casual, few and long neglected. I urgently found out what they might be worth – not much, but rather more than I would have guessed. I found out I could safely die any time and my wife and baby would not be thrown onto welfare. But youth is gone forever. I now make little, periodic investments in Government securities carefully chosen to mature when my infant Aristotle is ready for college. I get up at night, not to fuss with philosophical manuscripts, but to examine once again my modest investment position, life insurance contracts, retirement benefits, medical insurance and survivors’ benefits. The evening news brings the report that Benny Goodman died. So did Cary Grant. And Desi Arnaz. And Horace Heidt. My wife never heard of some of these people. I wonder whether she noted how old they were. I did. A profounder effect of late fatherhood has been a new awareness of something in myself, and apparently in others, that I had never thought much about. The first time I held my new son in my arms I felt as though I were dreaming. I still feel that way every night as I rock him to sleep in my arms, lulled by the nocturnes of Chopin, then gently lower him into his crib. Sometimes I doze myself, his head against my chest, and the reality becomes the dream. I have loved children before, but other things competed for my thoughts -my manuscripts, my standing in the university, my friends, my future. Now I stand outside the university. Challenges there are all past. I know where I shall always live and what my income will be. My thoughts are free to focus entirely on my wife and baby.
When I was a graduate student, I had a professor, nearing retirement, whose two marriages had been childless. He had an obsessive love for a cat. His unabashed devotion to his cat was regular conversational fare even beyond the university. It seemed a quaint idiosyncrasy, but I understand it now. I have since noticed many instances of older couples, past hope for children, whose emotional lives have come to center upon some dog or cat.
At another university, one of my associates found himself suddenly with unsought custody of his infant grandchild. He did not need this. He was a towering figure in his field. Yet that infant reshaped his life and, while his custody lasted, overwhelmed every other interest he had. This baffled me at the time.
This sort of thing is familiar, but who has tried to understand it? Loneliness does not explain it. The way old people dote on their grandchildren is legendary, too. I used to assume it was because they had nothing better to do.
Psychologists have written much about the need to be loved.
Less has been said about the need to love. Your love becomes overwhelming when its object is helpless and dependent and your own hold on life seems uncertain. Perhaps Plato was right when he said that our love for our children springs from the soul’s yearning for immortality.
I lower my sleeping son into his crib. The Chopin record will shut off automatically after a while, and the house will be still until the baby’s first importunate cry in the morning. One more precious, irreplaceable day is ending, and I am fulfilled.
Richard Taylor died in November of 2003.
RICHARD TAYLOR [1919-2003]
TRUMANSBURG – Richard Taylor, well-known as a beekeeper in Trumansburg, died peacefully on October 30th, after a long battle with lung cancer.
Dr. Taylor was a retired philosophy professor, who held tenured professorships at Brown University and the graduate faculty of Columbia University. In addition he held professorships at many New York colleges, including Hobart William Smith, Hamilton, Union, Wells, University of Rochester, and Hartwick.
Professor Taylor authored over a dozen books in philosophy, plus several in beekeeping. His last book, composed during his illness, will be published in February 2004.
He is survived by his precious companion, Connie Bright; four strong sons; and a beautiful stepdaughter.
There will be no funeral or memorial service.
The family has entrusted arrangements to the Ness-Sibley Funeral Home, 23 South St., Trumansburg. www.ness-sibley.com
TESTIMONIALS ON RICHARD TAYLOR
From Philosophy Now, Issue 44
Richard Taylor Remembered
One of the most colourful and engaging of modern philosophers (and of Philosophy Now contributors) is recalled by Robert Holmes, Barry Gan and Tim Madigan.
I first became acquainted with Richard Taylor when I was on the editorial board of Free Inquiry magazine, the secular humanist publication of which he was a frequent contributor. While his articles tended to be hard-hitting denunciations of the foolishness of organized religions, he went out of his way to assert that he himself was not a secular humanist. Yet he was delighted by his induction into the International Academy of Humanism, and proudly displayed his certificate on the wall of his study. This was my first introduction to Richard’s love of paradox and Socratic whimsy.
Over the years, Richard was incredibly helpful to me in my own stop-and-start attempts to get a PhD in philosophy. When I would bemoan my difficulties in writing my dissertation, he offered the sage advice that I should write exactly one page a day, and in a year’s time I’d have more than enough pages to justify the degree. Somehow this never quite worked for me but I admired his own discipline and skill as a writer. When I finally did complete my dissertation, he kindly agreed to be my outside reader. We shared a fondness for the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, whose extreme pessimism delighted us both.
What I most appreciated about Richard was his joy in living. He truly found meaning in life through his philosophical explorations, and always maintained a healthy sense of humor about them. Hubris was never one of his sins. He and I would get together with some frequency to discuss philosophy and life in general, and I arranged for him to give talks to various groups of which I was a member. Once, he and his close friend Robert Holmes engaged in a strenuous debate over the topic of euthanasia, in a course I was teaching on medical ethics. Bob had mentioned to us both that he had to leave the class early for another appointment. When he suddenly dashed out, many of the students thought that he had been so offended by Richard’s remarks that he took umbrage and left in a huff. I had to explain to them the next class meeting that philosophers typically engage in such vigorous disputations, and Richard and Bob’s friendship had not been destroyed. When I related this story to Richard, his eyes twinkled with delight.
When I learned from him that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, I decided that I would make these gettogethers a more regular occurrence. Every few weeks thereafter, he and I got together for lunch on a Sunday afternoon, along with other philosophical friends he had accumulated over the years. I considered this my own version of Tuesdays with Morrie, and benefited immensely from his erudite yet down-to-earth discussions of politics, sex, religion and all the other topics we are told to eschew in polite company.
Richard Taylor was a true epicurean, who met his final days with the equanimity of one who had lived life to the fullest. He was and is an inspiration to me. I very much miss my Sundays with Richard.
© DR TIMOTHY J. MADIGAN 2004
Tim Madigan is Editorial Director of the University of Rochester Press and a U.S. Editor of Philosophy Now.
It is strange to be writing a memoir about Richard Taylor: only a few weeks ago a number of us gathered with Richard at a little restaurant in upstate New York, as we had done frequently over the past year. “Don’t get me started on Bush,” he said. “I tired myself venting about him on the way up here.” I was surprised because Richard used to tweak me and my critical views of the U.S. by sending me copies of his letters to the editor extolling, for example, the virtues of American fighter pilots. One of the things I loved about Richard was his Socratic penchant, always with a twinkle and a smile, for tweaking almost everyone he could. He could not stand complacency, vanity or puffery.I first heard Richard Taylor’s name when I was a freshman at Miami University in 1966, where I announced to my philosophy professor that I was transferring to the University of Rochester. The first words out of his mouth were, “Oh, great department! Doesn’t Richard Taylor teach there?”At the time, I didn’t know who Richard Taylor was, but I found out quickly enough. He was the first professor from whom I took a philosophy course at Rochester. The course was History of Ancient Philosophy, and a regular attendee in that class was Richard’s dog, a German shepherd named Vanee. I was never sure how to spell or pronounce the dog’s name. The way Richard said it, the V sometimes sounded like an F. But every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Richard would wander into class wearing a pair of khakis, a pair of work boots, some heavy duty socks, and a flannel shirt. He would lift himself up onto the desk, light his cigar, and Vanee would curl up beneath him, under the desk. Then, as Richard captivated us with his stories of Plato and Aristotle, Thales and Epicurus, he would slowly gather up the ashes from his cigar into a neat little pile, and at the end of class, he would dispose of them and wander out the door with his dog.One of the other students in that class was Taylor’s own son Chris, whom I got to know a bit during my undergraduate years. Another was Teddy Seidenfeld, who later became, like me, a professional philosopher. I can’t help but wonder who else was in that class, and how many of us are now philosophers. Nick Smith, who also became a professional philosopher, is one name that comes to mind. He may have been in that class, too.I never took another class from Richard while I was an undergraduate, but when I returned to the Department of Philosophy at Rochester in 1978 as a first-year graduate student, Richard remembered me. He had replaced his trademark classroom cigar with a thermos of tea, and Vanee had long since passed away. Polly, a Dalmatian who always sported a red bandana to match Richard’s, had taken Vanee’s place. Richard supported and befriended me. I felt honored by his friendship. As a graduate student I saw sides of him I hadn’t known as an undergraduate. At conferences he would go out of his way to introduce me to famous philosophers. In Rochester he would make it a point to invite me and others to small dinner parties at his apartment. I would encounter him at the school swimming pools, where he regularly swam laps. And at one point in my graduate student career, my wife and I took a course from Richard on beekeeping, and I discovered that he was a well-known author on beekeeping. He marveled at the miracles of nature. His home on Cayuga Lake hosted colonies of purple martins.
Later, when my wife and I moved to Olean, I learned the truth of what I had once heard Richard proclaim at a department meeting, that well-known though he was as a philosopher, he was far better known as a beekeeper. When people in town would hear that a Richard Taylor was coming to speak on philosophy at the university, often they would say, “Richard Taylor, the beekeeper?” I have never met a beekeeper who hasn’t heard of Richard Taylor.
Richard was a frequent guest of the Philosophy Department at St Bonaventure University. He delighted in poking fun at the Catholic underpinnings of the University, gleefully seeing via his presentations just what barbs he could direct at the Church. Later, in the evenings, he would ask me, expectantly, “Were there any priests there? Do you think I offended them? Oh, I hope so!”
So I will remember Richard always, but not because of his beekeeping and not because of his philosophical writings. I will remember him because he was, like Socrates, a gadfly who delighted in making others uncomfortable about their selfimportance or their conventions. But he was also, like Socrates, a loving man and faithful correspondent who, while all of us gathered ‘round a few weeks ago, went gentle into that good night.
© PROF. BARRY GAN 2004
Barry Gan is a professor of philosophy at Saint Bonaventure.
Richard Taylor died on October 30, 2003, at his home near Trumansburg, N.Y. after a nearly year-long struggle with lung cancer. He was 83 years old. Richard took his PhD at Brown University under the late Roderick Chisholm and taught principally at Brown, Columbia and Rochester, from which he retired in 1985 after twenty years of teaching. His visiting appointments included those at Cornell, Hamilton, Hartwick, Hobart & William Smith, Princeton, Ohio State, Union and Wells.He remained active until the end, writing and meeting for philosophical luncheons with friends and former colleagues. His last book, Understanding Marriage, written largely during his illness, and by his own account a nonphilosophical work, is slated for publication in 2004. He is perhaps best known philosophically for his books, Metaphysics (1963), Action and Purpose (1966), Good and Evil (1970) and Virtue Ethics (1991). Never one to take his work with grim seriousness, he laced the index to the metaphysics book with entries such as: “Mice, difficulty of getting rid of,” and “Graveyards, how we all sink thereinto.” The entry for “Fatalism,” (also the title of his influential 1962 Philosophical Review article that even critics called “ingenious”), included a reference for “odiousness of” followed by another for “sublimity of.” His works were widely anthologized and translated into many foreign languages.Deeply influenced by the ancients, disdainful of Kant, and admiring of Schopenhauer, Richard made his own philosophical way, without regard for popular trends or conventional academic expectations. This distanced him from some but endeared him to others. He marveled at how some philosophers could discuss seriously whether earthworms have souls but scoff at an examination of love and marriage. He didn’t exempt his own work from criticism and came to dismiss some of it as of little account when he turned his back on the analytic tradition that had nurtured him. Not only his philosophical views but also his moral convictions underwent constant re-examination. Although a commissioned officer on a submarine in World War II, he became a convinced pacifist by the end of his life. “I was late coming to it,” he said in his final days. He loved dialectic and thrived on philosophical discussion. In a story that Thales would have understood, he told how he and Chisholm once became so absorbed in discussing the Absolute while returning to Brown University from a conference in New York that they ran out of gas.An internationally-known apiarist, Richard authored books on bee-keeping and wrote regularly for bee journals. Bee enthusiasts travelling to the Northeast often went out of their way to visit him. His near-legendary honey stand at the roadside in front of his country home operated on an honor system, secured only by gentle solicitations to honesty posted on its walls.Among the many philosophers who studied under him as graduate students were those with interests as diverse as Norman Bowie, Steven Cahn, Myles Brand, Keith Lehrer, Eric Mack and Peter van Inwagen. A festschrift in his honor, entitled Time and Cause: Essays Presented to Richard Taylor was edited by Peter in 1980. A collection of his works, entitled Reflective Wisdom: Richard Taylor on Issues that Matter, was edited by John Donnelly in 1989. But it may be that his greatest impact was upon undergraduates. A few days before his death, a student from 25 years before described how Richard would stroll into the lecture hall accompanied by his dog, prepare himself a cup of tea, then proceed to discuss philosophy with the class in unpretentious language. Students would applaud his courses at the end of the semester. “He was,” she said simply, “an incredible teacher.”
© PROF. ROBERT L. HOLMES 2004
Robert Holmes teaches philosophy at the University of Rochester.
© 2007 Philosophy Now. All rights reserved.—–
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